The former Macon County elections director will serve six months in federal prison and pay $65,000 in restitution for stealing public funds. She will also serve three years of supervised release with home detention.
Kimberly Bishop pleaded guilty in federal court in Asheville in February to one count of federal program fraud and was sentenced on Tuesday.
She admitted to writing checks to contractors and then either cashing the checks herself or splitting the money with the people named on the checks.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bishop started working as director of the Board of Elections in 2002. From June 2013 to January 2014, she submitted check requests for four people for their supposed work with the Board of Elections and then forged their signature and signed her own name on the back of checks. Bishop also admitted to signing the checks, along with two of the people named as payees, and splitting the money.
The case was initially investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation, which was later joined by the FBI. Bishop was prosecuted at the federal level because Macon County received more than $10,000 in federal assistance during the time period when the crimes took place, according to records reviewed by Carolina Public Press.
Tip leads to investigation
A search warrant application signed by SBI agent T.D. Ammons states that “a trustworthy source” approached Macon County manager Derek Rowland in the months after his appointment, in late 2013, and said checks were being issued to people who weren’t performing the work for which they were paid.
Macon County finance director Lori Hall searched the county’s records and found that more than $50,000 had been paid to four contractors — Sonya Stephens, Misty Henry or Misty Bryson, Kathy Holland and Cassidy Ledford — with suspicious signatures on the check requests and little other documentation.
Ammons wrote that the checks included spelling variations of Ledford’s first name and Stephens’ last name.
The checks were supposedly approved by Macon County Board of Elections members Luke Bateman, the board’s chairman, and Sara Waldroop. Both were interviewed by investigators and said they had no knowledge about the checks and didn’t know the four people to whom the checks were paid. Ammons also wrote that agents interviewed Stephens, who said she had never done work for Macon County and her signature on the checks didn’t match her actual signature. Ledford told investigators that she did work for the Board of Elections occasionally and had received $2,000 for that work, significantly less than the $14,000 in checks that were issued in her name.
Bishop found herself in more legal trouble shortly after her guilty plea.
According to federal court documents, Bishop failed a drug test for methamphetamine on April 25, a violation of her pre-sentence release conditions.
A judge revoked her pre-sentence release and ordered her to attend rehab, which she completed less than a week before her sentencing.
Changes in Macon County
Bishop’s case did lead to some changes in the way Macon County handles its payments to contractors.
Board of Commissioners chairman Kevin Corbin told Carolina Public Press that the county has added “checks and balances” to the payment system to add a layer of oversight.
“The finance department noticed the irregularities and they’ve put in some more checks and balances, in the entire county budget,” he said. “A second person has to sign off on checks and more than one person looks at each purchase order.”
Corbin said check requests are now signed by a county department head and an employee of the finance office. Those changes were implemented across all county departments but will also affect the Board of Elections, which shares office space with the county but actually functions as its own entity.
Editor’s Note: CPP is pursuing additional federal records related to this case under the Freedom of Information Act. Readers will be updated when that information becomes available.