Johnston County District Attorney Press Release
After a thorough review of the evidence by Johnston County District Attorney Susan I. Doyle, a senior Assistant District Attorney, and an independent financial crimes prosecutor, the District Attorney has declined to pursue criminal charges against employees from the Town of Smithfield named in a 2011 state audit which found irregularities in personal leave practices and alleged unauthorized salary increases.
While it is apparent that certain actions and practices taken by the town officials were certainly inconsistent with best practices and were not in the best interest of the town, prosecutors do not believe there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred.
During the time in question, January 1, 2011, through June 30, 2011, a policy was in place for the Town of Smithfield which restricted raises and the hiring of any new employees to fill vacant positions. Despite these directives, Debbie Godwin, Town Clerk of Smithfield; Eric Williams, Town Manager; Justin Merritt, Finance Director and Lynn Powell, Assistant Town Clerk, received substantial increases in salary. While other town employees also received raises during this period, no other worker received more than a 5% raise and most were within the 1-3% range. The raises granted by Godwin were substantially larger, with Godwin receiving a 30% salary increase.
During 2011, policies and procedures in place for the Town of Smithfield granted the town manager sole discretion over decisions regarding salaries for employees. Initial investigations alleged that the raises were unauthorized evidenced by the fact that Williams had not signed the authorization forms related to the salary increases in question. Further inquiry and investigation of this matter indicated that it was common practice for Williams to leave written documentation unsigned, instead often relying on verbal authority. This was particularly common during periods when Williams was on extended medical leave. In addition, there were several phone calls from Godwin to Williams from Godwin’s office during these times of medical leave. Godwin has asserted since the start of the investigation that she received verbal authorization approving the raises from Williams during these telephone calls. Williams, who ultimately resigned from his position, denies he ever granted such authority during these phone calls. Statements and affidavits of numerous witnesses present in Godwin’s office when the calls took place corroborate Godwin’s assertion that Williams did in fact grant verbal authority.
In a related civil deposition of Williams, he admitted, under oath, “I was so high on meds I do not know what I signed and what I did not sign.” Williams is the sole witness who maintains the raises were not authorized. Due to his statements under oath during the deposition and his repeated contradictory statements regarding this matter, Williams’ credibility is questionable and therefore his testimony at trial would be unreliable. Further, as cited in the State Auditor’s report, the Town of Smithfield failed to establish and set forth clear practices and rules for employees. The Town of Smithfield even allowed Godwin to keep her work issued laptop computer as part of her resignation.
These loose practices certainly played a significant role in the actions of Godwin and, in part, prevents the District Attorney from successfully prosecuting any criminal charges of the parties involved. Based on all information gathered during the investigation of these matters, prosecutors are unable to prove that Godwin acted without authority or with criminal intent.
The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation for a very thorough investigation. District Attorney Susan I. Doyle stated, “The Town of Smithfield had no set policies, procedures or a checks and balances system that would prevent such reckless acts of greed by town employees. While it is very disappointing that these town employees would act in such a way that is not in the best interest of the town or its citizens, their acts do not rise to the level of a crime.”