Former county administrator admits $753,000 theft

Crista Madden pleads guilty to two class B felonies in the theft of $753,889 of Franklin County taxpayer funds.

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Crista Madden

Russellville | Admitting to a decade-long scheme that resulted in her converting more than a quarter-million dollars of county taxpayer money to her own use, former Franklin County administrator and Red Bay-area resident Crista Madden pleaded guilty to the massive fraud in Franklin County Circuit Court on Monday.

She now could face up to 20 years in prison on the charges, and is required to pay back the $753,889 she stole from county coffers. Also as part of her deal, she agreed to never seek or accept employment or any kind of working relationship with a governmental agency in the state.

Madden, who had been under investigation by special agents from the Alabama Attorney General’s office, turned herself in to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department on Monday, where she was booked and subsequently released on $10,000 bond. She entered her guilty plea in front of specially appointed Circuit Judge Pride Tompkins. According to her agreement, Madden pleaded guilty to one count of Use of Official Position for Personal Gain and one count of Use of Equipment for Personal Gain. Both charges are class B felonies, which call for sentences of two to 20 years on each charge and fines of up to $30,000. She is expected to face sentencing within the next couple of months.

Court documents show Madden gave a full confession to both offenses when she was confronted by special agents with the Attorney General’s office.

Madden, a 1987 graduate of Red Bay High School, had worked for Franklin County since 1992. She became assistant county administrator in 2005 and was named county administrator by Probate Judge Barry Moore in 2009. She left the Franklin County post on Aug. 31, 2017 to accept the administrator’s position in Chilton County. She resigned that post on March 13, after having been placed on leave when officials there were made aware she was under investigation.

“The people of Alabama deserve honest and trustworthy service from public employees and officials, and as Attorney General I am committed to prosecute those who abuse their positions for illegal personal gain,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “For nearly a decade, Crista Madden systematically plundered funds that belonged to Franklin County and betrayed her public trust. Due to the vigilance of the Examiners of Public Accounts, her crimes were discovered and reported to my office. I want to commend the outstanding work by Assistant Attorneys General Katie Langer and Chris Moore of my Criminal Trials Division and Special Agents of the newly- formed Cybercrime Lab in my Investigations Division for bringing this case to a successful conclusion.” 

The theft came to light when Moore said he was alerted to some discrepancies in the county’s financial records that needed to be analyzed for signs of wrongdoing.

“I immediately contacted the Department of Examiners and I, along with the rest of our staff, have cooperated fully with this investigation,” Moore said in a statement. “Now that the investigation has concluded and our former county administrator has taken responsibility for her errors in judgment, I want to express my thanks to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office for handling this case and reaching a quick resolution.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, Madden’s scheme began in December 2007, when she “generated false records of checks and then made the originals payable to herself. She would create a false purchase order for a fictitious vendor and generate a check payable to that company. Before printing the check, she placed a strip of tape on the paper where the name for payee would be printed. For county records, she would make a copy of the check that showed the company name. She then removed the tape from the original and reprinted the check with her own name listed as payee. The check was then deposited into her personal account. She continued this scheme until she left the position in July of 2017, depositing a total of $753,889 in various private bank accounts that she held.”

Moore said efforts are being made to try to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

“I also appreciate those who have been supportive throughout this process and who understand that things like this aren’t as simple as they might seem. The county commission, just like any other business, has checks and balances in place, such as audits, to try to prevent instances like this. However, the nature of how these events took place allowed for the discrepancies to go undetected. I will be working with our staff, county commissioners and others to see how we can more effectively strengthen our checks and balances and our ways for reviewing financial records so that something like this will not occur again in the future.”

Moore also said the discovery of Madden’s actions was both a personal and professional blow to those who worked with her.

“As an employer, it is never easy to discover that someone who works for you has engaged in behavior that compromises the integrity of your business or office, which I know many people feel has happened in this instance,” Moore said. “It’s even harder to learn of instances such as this when you work closely with your employees and consider them to also be friends. Because of this, the events that have taken place over the past few weeks have been very difficult for me personally as well as the county commission. However, I believe it was of the utmost importance and my duty to the citizens of Franklin County to set aside my personal feelings and any negative effects this could have on me professionally, especially in light of the upcoming elections, and make sure this instance of impropriety was investigated immediately and that the truth was brought to light.”