SBI investigating Landis finances; town manager, finance officer resign

Published 5:04 pm Thursday, February 7, 2019

By Liz Moomey, Josh Bergeron and Shavonne Walker

LANDIS — The State Bureau of Investigation has initiated an independent criminal investigation into Landis’ finances, and Town Manager Reed Linn and Finance Officer Ginger Gibson have resigned effective immediately.

Audria Bridges, special agent in charge of the SBI’s Charlotte office, said the ongoing investigation is specifically looking into allegations of embezzlement.

The town announced the investigation and the resignations Thursday afternoon.

Linn’s resignation will pre-empt his planned retirement on March 1, which was announced Monday. Linn planned to take vacation days until March 1 and stay on as fire chief afterward, Mayor Mike Mahaley said Monday. Thursday’s news release does not specify whether Linn will stay on as fire chief, and town officials declined to comment further on the matter.

The news release says Mahaley and members of the Board of Aldermen this week directed the Landis Police Department to open aadministrative investigation into allegations about town finances. Alderman Seth Moore, however, told the Post that he was solely responsible for initiating the investigation and that preliminary findings were shared with Mahaley and others on Wednesday.

“In the early stages of that investigation, police uncovered substantial evidence of possible criminal activity,” the news release stated.

The Landis Police Department spoke with Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook, who on Wednesday asked the SBI to open an independent criminal investigation.

“The town of Landis is fully committed to ensuring proper governance within the town and will continue to support the SBI and the district attorney’s investigation,” the news release stated.

In a prepared video statement, Mahaley said the Board of Aldermen is disappointed by findings of the police investigation and that the town will not tolerate any wrongdoing with Landis’ finances.

According to the SBI, its Financial Crimes Division opened and closed an investigation of Landis in late 2018. No details were provided about the investigation.

The Salisbury Post reached out to Mahaley for additional comments and received no answer. Mayor Pro Tem Tommy Garver said the town attorney asked board members to make no comment. Alderman Tony Corriher hung up the phone on a reporter.

The Post called Linn and did not receive a response.

Moore said a called meeting will be held at an undetermined date before the Board of Aldermen’s regular March meeting to determine how the town will operate. As of Monday, the town planned for Police Chief Kenny Isenhour to serve as interim town manager as soon as Linn’s retirement became effective.

Since Monday’s meeting, Rowan County’s state legislators have been inundated with calls about Landis town government, said state Sen. Carl Ford, R-33. During that meeting, a standing-room-only crowd crammed into Town Hall, with residents expressing concerns ranging from electricity bills to the town’s finances.

At the meeting, residents spoke about their concerns for more than an hour. Several asked the board members to look into possible mismanagement of money.

Among those was Katie Sells, who said she would like the board to have a forensic audit.

“I would hope that this board since we’re changing the administrations would take the opportunity to have a forensic audit done,” Sells said. “That’s what needs to be done that would probably squash a lot of rumors. Just a regular audit is not going to get down to the nitty-gritty.”

She also suggested the board revise the town’s job application process.