Tryon County seal
The town seal for Tryon, a community of just over 2,000 residents in Polk County.

A Tryon town commissioner and the town’s former fire chief and town manager have been indicted on federal fraud charges.

Leroy Miller Jr., 51, the commissioner, and Joseph Samuel Davis, 42, were each indicted last week for federal program fraud conspiracy, according to a press release that the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for Western North Carolina issued Wednesday once Miller was arrested and the indictments were unsealed. Miller was also indicted on charges of federal program fraud, witness tampering and extortion under color of official right.

Davis and Miller allegedly colluded to get Davis a higher salary in exchange for him using that money to pay some of Miller’s personal bills. Federal officials said Davis received a pay increase of $5,000 per year when he took on additional duties as town manager. Miller began soliciting money from him around that time, according to the indictment.

Tryon is a town of less than 2,000 people in Polk County.

Davis was fired from his position as fire chief in late January, according to media reports. Davis had used town credit cards to pay for more than $2,000 of Miller’s personal bills, according to Zach Ollis, who succeeded Davis as town manager in 2016.

The town hired Davis as Tryon fire chief in 2007, following stints as the Polk County fire marshal and as a fire chief in Kings Mountain in Cleveland County. Davis was Tryon’s town manager from January 2012 to August 2016.

The indictment also accuses Miller of reminding Davis that Miller, as a commissioner, could influence the fire department budget as well as whether Davis retained his salary and position as town manager.

Federal officials said that, around April 2016, Davis was unable to pay Miller out of his personal funds and instead used the town’s credit cards on multiple occasions to pay for some of Miller’s personal bills like utilities, cable and auto insurance.

When Tryon hired Ollis to serve as the new town manager in July 2016, Miller and Davis allegedly plotted to help Davis retain his salary increase and to continue paying Miller’s bills with town funds.

The indictment says Davis sent Miller a text message in October asking Miller to lobby on his behalf to Ollis. Miller is accused of asking Davis for money to pay for a utility bill in November, but Davis allegedly responded that “he could not ‘run anything through the town any more with (the new town manager) checking behind me on all expenditures.’”

Federal officials also accused the men of using a “bill-padding and kickback scheme” to steal money from the town. Federal officials said Miller asked Davis to increase the bill for a municipal construction contract by $2,500 and to give the money to Miller. That scheme never came to fruition, according to federal prosecutors.

Davis allegedly told Miller in January that he had been contacted by SBI and FBI agents who were asking questions about town funds being used to pay for Miller’s personal bills. Federal officials said Miller told Davis to lie to those law enforcement officials and to delete any text messages or emails between the two men.

The conspiracy charge has a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The federal program fraud charge has a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine and both the extortion and witness tampering charges carry a maximum sentences of 20 years and a $250,000 fine each.

The alleged crimes are federal, according to the indictment, because the town receives more than $10,000 annually in funding from the federal government. As a result, money stolen from the town’s coffers would have included mingled federal money.

The indictment against the men was returned by a federal grand jury on April 4, but was sealed until Miller’s arrest on April 12, according to the press release.

This is not the first time he’s faced federal fraud charges. According to a report in the Tryon Daily Bulletin, he pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal food stamp fraud charges.

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Michael Gebelein was an investigative reporter with Carolina Public Press. To contact Carolina Public Press, email or call 828-774-5290.

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