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Mayor Austell promises new city leadership

 

Fallout from FBI sting in Cherryville continues

 

JENNA-LEY HARRISON

Staff Writer

 

Following a year of state and federal investigations into the city of Cherryville, including the arrest of a city employee for embezzlement and local law enforcement officers this month for taking cash bribes and protecting stolen property, Mayor Bob Austell told the Times-News last week that city officials plan to soon bring in new leadership.

“We should be in a position to announce a new city manager in the very near future,” he said.

Fire Chief Jeff Cash has been serving as interim city manager since mid-June and recently named himself interim police chief after Chief Woody Burgess, along with Capt. Mike Allred, were suspended from their positions last week in connection with an ongoing federal investigation.

Four area police officers and two Cherryville residents were served indictments Wednesday for their alleged involvement in an undercover ruse the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated in 2011 after suspecting a Cherryville patrol officer, Frankie Dellinger, was involved in criminal antics.

In addition to Dellinger, 40, those charged in the operation included Casey Justin Crawford, 32, and David Paul Mauney III, 23, also officers with the Cherryville Police Department, along with Reserve Officer Wesley Clayton Golden, 39, of the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, and Cherryville residents Mark Ray Hoyle, 39, and John Ashley Hendricks, 47.

Federal officials have not said who else or what other agencies the ongoing investigation may be targeting.

The officers are accused of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for giving the operation’s “criminals” — actually undercover FBI agents — both their legal authority and assistance in transporting stolen property through the area.

Hoyle represented himself as a police officer in the incidents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, while Hendricks also aided the men in transporting stolen merchandise.

The FBI placed the police agency on lockdown Wednesday while agents searched the facility and seized computers and other evidence in the case.

Sgt. Cam Jenks is heading the troubled agency but reports daily to Cash. In addition, Austell said the Gaston County Police Department “is furnishing to help fill” Cherryville’s gaps. The agency has been working to enforce public safety and maintain order in the midst of chaotic circumstances.

“The reorganization of our police department will not take place until we are informed of the investigation of our department and the status of our Police Chief Woodrow Burgess and Captain Mike Allred,” Austell said.

The resulting chaos also extends to past prosecutions involving the Cherryville Police.

Because Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell believes the officers’ testimonies in other pending city cases are now tainted, he may choose to dismiss those cases and let some prisoners go free, according to comments the DA’s Office released last week in neighboring news media outlets.

The Times-News contacted the DA’s Office on Friday but had yet to hear back from Bell, confirming the comments, at time of publication.

Five of the six suspects had a hearing on Friday in a federal courtroom in Charlotte and pleaded not guilty. Crawford is set to have his bond hearing today.

As of late Sunday evening, Dellinger and Hoyle remained with Crawford in the Mecklenburg County jail without bond.

Since December, the city has also been experiencing financial irregularities.

Former city employee, Jennifer Neal Hoyle, 34, wife of Mark Hoyle, was charged in July with 10 felony counts of embezzlement in connection with an investigation Bell ordered in February after two city officials were thought to be misusing city credit cards and payroll adjustments.

 

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