Tuesday’s hiring of a local man who has a federal felony conviction for bank fraud as the new deputy controller is causing controversy in Clearfield County government.
Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to hire Mark Michael of Clearfield as the new deputy controller to replace Deputy Controller Kathleen Miller, who is leaving on Aug 18.
Controller Tom Adamson recommended Michael for the post and during the salary board meeting, Adamson said he was pleased with the hire because it would save the county money because Michael was willing to work for a salary of $35,000 per year, and Miller’s salary is $39,000 per year.
However, commissioners discovered after the meeting that Michael has a criminal history.
According to a previous article in The Progress, in June of 2013, Michael and Timothy Kephart of Morrisdale were convicted at trial in federal court for conspiracy to commit bank fraud for their involvment in a $3.6 million check-kiting scheme while employed at Dart Trucking. Michael was the chief financial officer of Dart Trucking and Kephart was the chief operating officer. Dart Trucking had offices in Clearfield and Columbiana, Ohio.
In September of 2013, Michael was sentenced to serve 30 months in federal prison.
Adamson said he knew about Michael’s criminal history when he recommended him for the position to the commissioners.
Adamson said he isn’t concerned about Michael’s criminal past and being involved in handling county funds, because Michael’s duties as deputy controller are limited to administrative, clerical and bookkeeping duties. He said the controller, the treasurer and the commissioners have ultimate authority over the county’s finances and sign all of the checks.
Adamson said Michael would not have any financial authority or be able to sign checks when he (Adamson) is on vacation. Adamson said when he goes on vacation he will have to make other arrangements to have the checks signed. And he doesn’t believe Michael could ever serve as the acting controller or the controller if he (Adamson) would ever leave his position because Michael is a convicted felon.
Adamson said he hasn’t been able to seek legal counsel on this matter because his attorney, Jim Naddeo, passed away Tuesday night.
“I have no concerns. He is more than qualified to do the job,” Adamson said of Michael. “As a matter of fact, my staff and I are looking forward to welcoming him here.”
Adamson said his department is short-staffed and they need Michael on the job.
“I needed someone who could come in and fill the position that has the qualifications that I need,” Adamson said. “I would hate to see the pensioners and the bills and the employees not get paid.”
When asked by The Progress if he is concerned about the public perception of hiring a convicted felon, Adamson said, “No, I am not a politician, I do what’s right. I think Mark had a time there that was a whole different situation and I know he is capable of handling this position. I really feel he deserves this position and I am 100 percent behind him.”
The Clearfield County Commissioners issued the following statement yesterday afternoon.
“It has recently come to our attention that the new Deputy Controller, Mark Michael, was convicted of bank fraud in 2013.
“We were unaware of this when his name was submitted to us on Tuesday by County Controller Adamson. However, we note that under the Pennsylvania County Code, elected officials have discretion over hiring and firing in their own departments, and we had no reason to question Controller Adamson’s request at that time.
“We are deeply disappointed in Controller Adamson’s judgment on this issue. We support the notion that people who make a mistake deserve redemption, and we would consider Mr. Michael for other positions within County government. However, a felony or serious misdemeanor in an area related to one’s position (such as, in this case, bank fraud) should disqualify one from holding a financial position — particularly when the position involves the handling of taxpayer funds and the corresponding level of trust that comes with those duties.
“We also strongly disagree with Controller Adamson’s statement that Mr. Michael ‘will not have any financial responsibility.’ Under the County Code, if the Controller is absent, the Deputy Controller assumes all of the duties of the Controller. This specifically includes ‘maintaining a full and regular set of financial records, including the general ledger.’ The Controller’s Office also interacts with the County employee pension fund on a regular basis. In fact, Controller Adamson has repeatedly expressed the need for a Deputy specifically to handle the retirement-related tasks of the Controller’s Office.
“We call on Controller Adamson to withdraw this request, and we hope to work with him to find a suitable, qualified Deputy Controller.”
Commissioner Dave Glass said the county is still investigating its options regarding Michael’s hire.
“The best, simplest solution by far would be for Mr. Adamson to admit this hire is a mistake, and choose another candidate,” Glass said.