Fulton County Judge faces theft charges
As the result of an investigation which began in June, Fulton County Judge Jim Kendrick was charged with theft of property, a class D felony.
Earlier this summer, Fulton County Sheriff Al Roork received a complaint from a taxpayer involving Judge Kendrick using county resources to make repairs to his personal driveway. Sheriff Roork said due to him being an elected official in the county, it was a conflict of interest, therefore he could not lead an investigation. He contacted and sent the complaint to 16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Eric Hance for review and investigation.
The week following the controversy sparked on Facebook by photos of county road equipment near Kendrick’s residence, the judge placed an ad in The News which stated the road department was already making repairs on the county road (Pleasant Valley). Rather than taking time off to repair his personal driveway, Kendrick stated in the ad members of the road crew volunteered to make necessary repairs, in order for the judge to handle other emergency matters in the county.
The charge was filed in Fulton County Circuit Court by 16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Eric Hance’s office on Thursday, Aug. 8, following an investigation led by Arkansas State Police Special Agent Justin Nowlin.
Nowlin interviewed Kendrick on June 24, following a trip to Kendrick’s residence to view the driveway which he observed to have “newer fill dirt and approximately three areas of older chat rock”. During the interview, Kendrick said he was discussing his neighbor’s driveway, who said water was washing out his driveway. He told his neighbor he would fix the issue for him but also told the road department employees not to stop working on problem areas (“hot spots”).
“While I was out there I noticed my driveway was in rough shape and I knew I would have to take off some time to fix it. I had a lot of irons in the fire and things going on. My driveway was so bad that my wife could barely get the car down the driveway,” said Kendrick. A longtime road department employee was told to “not pull off any ‘hot spots’, and to account for every penny”.
Kendrick said 18 loads were delivered to his driveway at $4 a load. “I wrote the county a check for approximately $1,840; I added the mileage for the trucks and labor at $80 a load, I added employee time in that check, and an extra $300 for the work Justin did. This is how I came up with the best guess I could to reimburse the county.”
Four road department employees and one property owner who allows the county to dig fill dirt from private property were interviewed by Nowlin. Two of the employees specifically stated they have never worked on a county judge’s driveway in previous years. Though several of the employees felt what they were doing was wrong, they were following assignments given to them by their supervisors. Two full days, June 11 and June 12, were spent working on Kendrick’s driveway.
The property owner said Fulton County Road Department has been allowed to dig fill dirt from the property for approximately two years at $4 a load. There is no written contract between the individual and county, but no other entities or individuals are allowed on the property and the owner only sells the dirt to the road department.
The amount Judge Kendrick reimbursed the county for was based on what the county is charged for materials and equipment. “A member of the public would have to use a private contractor for the work and the cost would be substantially higher than the amount Mr. Kendrick reimbursed the county for,” said the special agent’s report.
As part of the investigation, Nowlin contacted three locally owned and operated private contracting companies and received quotes for road grader and dirt work. Company 1: Dirt (18 loads), $3,600 and road grader (20 hours), $1,200; Company 2: Dirt (18 loads), $3,960 and road grader (20 hours), $1,600; and Company 3: Dirt (18 loads), $4,500 and road grader (20 hours), $2,000. “Based on the above estimates, it would cost a member of the public approximately $4,800 to $6,500 and the average of the three above estimates was approximately $5,620,” said Nowlin’s narrative.
Kendrick was booked into Fulton County Jail and then released after posting $5,000 bond.
The ‘Count 1” charge states: “Did purposely take or exercise unauthorized control over or make an unauthorized transfer of an interest in the property of another person with the purpose of depriving the owner of the property, a class “D” felony in violation of A.C.A. 5-36-103 (a)(1)(3)(A) against the peace and dignity of the State of Arkansas.”