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Cherryville, city’s ex-employees face probe from SBI

DA says fired city manager not a subject of investigation

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

The State Bureau of Investigation is currently looking into allegations that two former city of Cherryville employees embezzled funds.
Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell ordered the investigation the end of February, SBI’s Public Information Officer Noelle Talley told the Times-News earlier this week.
Two city officials are accused of misusing city credit cards and payroll adjustments, Talley added.
The city has been encountering “irregularities” in their financial department since December, according to Cherryville Mayor Bob Austell.
While the City Council terminated City Manager David Hodgkins last month, with his last official day of employment on June 15, Austell said the decision stemmed solely from city officials’ opinion that Cherryville “needed new leadership” and not from the ongoing investigation into the other former city employees.
Jeff Cash stepped in to temporarily fill the city manager position. Cash wouldn’t comment on the details surrounding the termination or embezzlement allegations.
Currently, no charges have been filed in the investigation, Talley said.
Austell initially told the Times-News this week that he was prevented from discussing the situation further because of a gag order the District Attorney’s Office had placed on city officials pending completion of the investigation.
But when the Times-News spoke with D.A. Locke Bell on Thursday, he emphatically denied placing a gag order, stating that he had “no authority” to do so.
Asked to clarify the situation, Austell later responded in an email:
“The term gag order possibly was the improper description of the communication with the district attorney. There were three of us from Cherryville in the meeting with the D.A. and he asked that we try to allow the investigation to go forward without the citizens trying it without all the facts and details.”
The mayor’s email continued, “With that being said there is not a story there and will not be a story there until the investigation is complete. Anything at this point would be suspect and could hinder the investigation. Therefore we do not have anything further to report until the investigation is complete.”
Bell told the Times-News that he could confirm the existence of the investigation but not discuss other details on the ongoing probe. He was unwilling to specify whether the inquiry began before or after the former city manager was fired.
Bell did say that the District Attorney’s office has heard no allegations of Hodgkins’ involvement in any illegal activity.
“SBI is investigating the city of Cherryville, but not investigating David,” Bell said.
The Gaston County Police Department is also investigating Cherryville city officials in an unrelated incident, Talley said. Further details of that matter were not available at time of publication.

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