Cooleemee mayor, board member added to lawsuit on alleged embezzlement

Published 8:17 am Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

The mayor and a town board member in Cooleemee have been named in a civil lawsuit for being negligent after a former clerk was fired for embezzlement.

The criminal case is being investigated by the SBI and the Davie Sheriff’s Office. Davie Sheriff J.D. Hartman said he doesn’t expect any charges to be filed before the first of the year.

The town had filed a civil lawsuit against the former clerk, Aaron Thies, accusing him of stealing more than $250,000 from the town. That lawsuit was later amended to include Mayor Jessica Almond and board member Jeannie McDaniel Taylor, claiming their lack of oversight allowed the embezzlement to continue.

Taylor and Almond were each authorized to sign town checks, along with the town clerk, Aaron Thies. According to the lawsuit, filed by local attorney Brandy Koontz, the mayor and board member not only didn’t know a legitimate reason for some of the expenditures, they also sometimes signed blank checks for the clerk to fill out later.

“This is an action for a money judgment arising out of the defendants gross negligence and for acting outside the scope of (their) authority. (They) intentionally failed to carry out (their) fidiciary duties … with wanton disregard for the rights and safety of the Town of Cooleemee and its residents.

“The town has sustained and will continue to sustain substantial, consequential and incidental damages.”

The amended lawsuit was signed by Andy Reavis, the town’s mayor pro tem.

The town has already received an injunction ordering Thies not to dispose of assets before the case is decided. More motions are scheduled to be heard this month.

Thies was fired on Aug. 1 after Almond reported that someone had told her that Thies had received an unauthorized $4,000 bonus.

According to the lawsuit, that bonus was just the tip of the iceberg, as more bonuses were paid, payroll amounts and times altered,  and financial statements and receipts were altered.

Questions did arise about the payroll in the spring, but Thies falsely claimed a software problem was to blame, the lawsuit said.

“He repeatedly abused his position of trust and responsibility to engage in an ongoing clandestine scheme to embezzle funds from the Town of Cooleemee and secretly convert such funds to his own use, benefit and enjoyment.”

The suit claims that during his employment since 2021, Thies used the funds to help pay off his college debt, pay off one vehicle and purchase a Chevrolet Tahoe, a Ski-Doo and a trailer. He also went on numerous vacations, it said.

Former mayor and clerk Steven Corriher was hired as clerk soon after Thies departure.