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Sheriff's Office worker quits during investigation

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
An employee of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has resigned after being placed on leave during an embezzlement investigation.
Kathy Hudgins, secretary to Sheriff George Wilhelm, submitted her letter of resignation June 17. Hudgins had worked for the Sheriff’s Office since 1996, initially serving in the Detention Center before becoming Wilhelm’s secretary.
On March 25, Hudgins was placed on paid investigative leave while the State Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation.
Under the county’s policy, investigative leave is limited to 30 days. However, Hudgins’ paid leave ran for nearly 10 weeks.
“We indicated to the sheriff that the maximum time had elapsed,” said Ken Deal, the county’s director of administration.
After county officials contacted Hudgins’ attorney, she submitted her resignation.
In her letter of resignation, Hudgins noted the time limitation for administrative leave and acknowledged that the investigation will likely be lengthy.
“I look forward to clearing my name,” she wrote.
Hudgins also thanked Wilhelm and the staff and county for the opportunity to serve the Sheriff’s Office.
Neither county officials nor investigators have directly linked Hudgins to the embezzlement.
Hudgins’ attorney, James Davis, said earlier that she is cooperating in every way. He expressed the belief that she will be absolved of any wrongdoing.
No one has said how much money is missing.
The investigation began in March after discrepancies were found in Sheriff’s Office accounts.
Wilhelm said earlier that Hudgins was placed on leave because she handled the deposits, while several other employees also handled the cash that comes in from various fees and judgements.
No estimate was available on how much cash flows through the Sheriff’s Office.
Deal said Monday that he does not believe the audit has been completed. Auditors will apparently look at a minimum of one year’s receipts and deposit slips. However, they could go back for several years.
“They can look at everything, We have all the receipts,” Deal said. He added that the county wants to know how much has been taken.
County commissioners briefly discussed the embezzlement investigation at a recent meeting.
Commissioner Jim Sides asked if and when the county will know how much money is missing.
Finance Director Leslie Heidrick indicated that the investigation is being handled through District Attorney Bill Kenerly’s office. Kenerly was out of town Monday and not available.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said Monday that the investigation is the most secretive thing he has ever been associated with. “They are very careful to not let us know anything,” he said.
The county is already looking at ways to prevent a similar situation in the future.
Chamberlain said the county may already be making changes in how money is handled in the Sheriff’s Office.
He didn’t rule out the county finance department take a major role in the handling of money within the Sheriff’s Office.

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