Former Mason, Tenn. officials indicted on theft and misconduct charges

Report from comptroller unveils the latest in a history of troubled leadership in the West Tennessee town

By: - March 23, 2023 5:00 am
Mason, Tenn. City Hall. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Mason, Tenn. City Hall. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Two former employees of the Town of Mason have been indicted on theft and official misconduct charges, an investigative report released Wednesday by the Tennessee Comptroller revealed.

The Comptroller’s investigation also determined that former Mason Mayor Gwendolyn Kilpatrick, who left office in 2018, misappropriated more than $8,000 in town funds for unauthorized purchases and on trips to Liberia, New York and New Orleans, among other destinations.

The allegations are the latest to emerge about the troubled history of leadership in Mason, a west Tennessee majority Black town of under 1,500 people that has struggled under recent administrations to get back on its feet.

Mason gained widespread public attention last year after the Comptroller took the unusual step of asking its residents to cede the town charter, effectively ending local self-governance.

Jason Mumpower, the Comptroller, said the town was deeply in debt, unable to effectively manage its finances and would not be able to take advantage of the investments coming to the area with a $5.6 billion Ford Motor Plant electric vehicle plant being built just a few miles away.

Former Mayor Gwendolyn Kilpatrick was reimbursed by the city for unapproved travel expenses, including a 10-day trip to Liberia, while financial consultant Reva Marshall, who became the town’s financial officer, received more than $80,000 in unearned compensation. Former Human Resources manager Michele Scott improperly received $40,000 in wages and benefits.

Mason’s then-elected leaders accused state officials of attempting a “hostile takeover” of the Black-led community which, they said, had accrued staggering debt largely during prior white administrations without similar calls to dissolve by state officials. Mason’s leaders also questioned the timing of the Comptroller interventions just as the community was poised to reap the benefits of the Ford investment. 

The town, with the assistance of the NAACP filed suit against the state last April but dismissed it several weeks later after reaching a deal with the Comptroller.

There has been an election since then, with Mayor Eddie Noeman, perviously an alderman, sworn in last December.

The town remains under the financial oversight of the Comptroller’s office, submitting financial information on a regular basis and working with a state-approved CPA, but retaining its charter. Mason has fully repaid $250,000 improperly borrowed from its Water and Sewer Fund and its current leadership and financial team have been working “to restore the town’s fiscal health,” a spokesperson for the Comptroller said. 

The investigation

The Comptroller investigation was initiated after Mason officials reported questionable transactions by the former mayor, who served between 2016 and 2018. Kilpatrick, believed to be the first Black mayor of Mason, stepped into the job after the resignation of nearly all of the town’s elected leadership in 2015 amid allegations of financial improprieties.

Kilpatrick, the report found, improperly received reimbursement from unapproved travel expenses, including a 10-day trip to Liberia, questioning $8,775 in expenses she occurred as mayor.

Kilpatrick does not currently face charges, according to Tipton County District Attorney Mark Davidson.

“Unfortunately, no criminal charges could be brought against her due to the expiration of applicable statutes of limitations,” he said in a statement.

The Comptroller investigation also found that Reva Marshall, who contracted with Mason in 2018 as a financial consultant then became the town’s financial officer a year later, had improperly received more than $80,000 in unearned compensation, benefits and reimbursements over a three-year period. 

She worked less than 20 hours some weeks, but received full-time compensation, the report said. Meanwhile Marshall also earned nearly $23,000 from the Memphis-Shelby County School System, where she was a full time employee. Marshall claimed to work for both entities, effectively double-dipping during her working hours, the report said. 

Marshall has been indicted by both a Tipton County Grand Jury and a Shelby County Grand Jury on theft and misconduct charges. She worked for Mason city government until June of last year. 

Town of Mason officials meet with Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower and his staff. Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee Comptroller
Town of Mason officials meet with Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower and his staff in April 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee Comptroller

Mason’s former human resources manager Michele Scott improperly received $40,000 in wages and benefits, the report said. 

She received a full time employee salary while working part time hours, the report said. 

The report also accuses Scott of double-dipping. Scott held a full-time position in the  the Memphis-Shelby County School System while she worked for the Town of Mason.

Scott has also been indicted in Shelby and Tipton Counties on theft and official misconduct charges. 

The alleged crimes of both women occurred between 2018 and 2022.

The Comptroller’s report also identified more than $45,000 of other questionable employee expenses related to meals, travel, auto repairs that were unsupported by documentation.

The report concluded that the town’s board and leadership failed to provide adequate oversight of payroll, credit card use, its checking account, employee travel, and consultants, and it highlighted a lack of guidelines on official use of issued cell phones, vehicle maintenance and equipment inventory.

The lack of oversight, Mumpower said in a news release, “not only led to misappropriation, but have also contributed to the town’s long history of audit findings and financial trouble.”

Mason Mayor Eddie Noeman could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.