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A city under fire: embezzlement and a firefighter on the sex offender registry discovered in Coyle

COYLE, Okla. – The results of a state audit uncovering thousands of dollars unaccounted for, even stolen, from the town of Coyle released just days before a volunteer firefighter is discovered to be a registered sex offender.

The firefighter’s status as a registered sex offender was discovered and outed on social media by Coyle residents. The audit was called for by the town’s trustees in 2016.

The former Coyle mayor of six years, Kristie Schroeder, is one of those cited for wrongdoing in the audit but she said she was the one who originally called for it.

The audit alleges more than $17,000 was mismanaged, unaccounted for, or even stolen.

Between July 2014 and July 2016, at the end of Schroeder’s tenure as mayor, she said she and the other town trustees relied on the former clerk-treasurer to keep the books straight.

“She always talked about how she wanted to help this community,” Schroeder said, “and I thought she was a partner with me in that.”

But in 2016, several Coyle residents started asking questions about the town’s finances, and the clerk-treasurer disappeared.

“Said she was going on a little vacation for a week and never came back,” Schroeder said.

Town leaders discovered the clerk-treasurer had allegedly written herself two extra paychecks amounting to $1,727.90. After they called for a state audit, that was confirmed by the state auditor’s report released February 1, 2018.

“Anytime you receive additional compensation, whether it’s through an additional check or you take money out of the drawer, it’s theft,” said State Auditor Gary Jones.

Jones’ team found several discrepancies in the town’s books in addition to those two paychecks. Payroll taxes were allegedly not withheld from the clerk-treasurer and mayor Schroeder’s paychecks, resulting in the two receiving extra compensation of $285.08 and $11.48 respectively.

The water operator was allegedly wrongfully paid $419.40 for accrued leave.

A change in pay period from twice per month to bi-weekly resulted in additional compensation for the clerk-treasurer in the amount of $175, and for the water operator in the amount of $180.

Receipts were not maintained for 72 of 118 debit card transactions (attached to the General Fund, CPWA, and Fire Department bank accounts) the clerk-treasurer was responsible for totaling $9,420.98 in undocumented funds.

The fire department spent $958 for a December 2015 Christmas party that according to the audit, "would appear to be for the benefit of a private group in violation of law."

In the petty cash drawer, of the $2,252.50 petty cash reimbursements between September 2014 and April 2016, there's no documentation to account for $2,115.57.

Other discrepancies and findings from the audit can be found in the full audit report on the Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector website.

The report also alleges Schroeder's husband purchased a patrol car from the city with a winning $20 bid, then before he transferred the deed to himself, sold it for $1,300.

Schroeder contends this is within state law and just didn't look good on paper.

"There is a state statute stating that a town as small as we are, some of those rules that bigger cities have to follow are not particularly, or the way I understood it, are not applicable to us," Schroeder said. "If they deem that I was in the wrong then I will have to account for that."

The audit was turned over to the district attorney's office. The D.A. will decide whether to file formal charges based on the findings.

Around the same time as the results of the audit became public, so did the status of the volunteer firefighter as a registered sex offender. His record has been expunged in court, but his status as a sex offender is not scheduled to expire until 2028.

The fire department took to his defense on the Coyle Volunteer Fire Department Facebook saying in part, "With permission of the Individual, we are able to say that individual mentioned in some social media posts has been expunged not guilty of all charges. Do (sic) to the Department of Corrections and our legal system interpretation of the laws this individual is caught in a situation that only new legislation can resolve."

Schroeder chimes in with others from the town on social media who say he never should have been voted into his position as a volunteer firefighter, arguing he's frequently in proximity to schools and parks he shouldn't be.

"He’s on that registry and it really doesn’t matter if he is a good man or not," Schroeder said, "he has to abide by the law set out by the state."

Current council member JoAnn Hale and Fire Chief Michael Gailbraith declined to comment on the findings in the audit because the results have been handed over to the D.A. They also declined to comment on the volunteer firefighter.