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October 23, 2012

State demands Bunker Hill officials pay back $37,000

Former judge, clerk have 21 days to pay before state can file lawsuit.

BUNKER HILL — The Indiana Attorney General Office issued letters last week demanding the former Bunker Hill judge and clerk pay back $37,000 to the town after the two officials failed to deposit that amount in traffic violations in 2011.

A state audit released earlier this month said former Town Judge Melvin Smith and former Court Clerk Kimberly Zehring were responsible for processing and depositing traffic ticket money into the bank.

On 121 days, the two officials deposited less money than was shown on court accounting books from February through December.

Both have denied stealing the missing $37,000, and Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey said there isn’t enough evidence to establish criminal charges.

Bryan Corbin, public information officer with the Attorney General Office, said Zehring and Smith now have 21 days to either pay the money back or contact the office to set up a payment plan.

If they don’t, he said the state will file a lawsuit against the two and potentially place liens on any property they own or freeze their financial assets.

Smith, however, has denied any responsibility for the missing money. In a letter to the state, he said he never received training in the court’s accounting software, and never personally entered any financial data into the system.

“I don’t feel that I should be held partially responsible for the missing funds since I did everything I could in full faith to maintain the integrity of the court as I had the previous seven years,” he wrote. “If I’m guilty of anything, it is being too trusting of what I considered a good, honest employee [Zehring].”

Both Zehring and Smith filed $5,000 in insurance bonds in 2011 in case of theft. Corbin said the state will take that money and require them to pay the leftover amount.

Judge Smith served for seven years, but didn’t run for reelection in 2011. His term ended in December. Zehring stopped working as court clerk in February of this year, according to the audit.

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He can be reached by phone at 765-854-6739 or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com

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