Chancery Court names interim clerk amid investigation

(WMC-TV) - A new Shelby County Chancery Court interim clerk was sworn in Wednesday as the FBI launched an embezzlement probe after a scathing investigation.

Retired former Shelby County Chancery Court clerk and master John Robertson received a call he never expected Tuesday.

"I was on the way to the golf course," said Robertson.

Robertson was sworn in as interim clerk and master Wednesday to keep the court running smoothly amid an embezzlement probe.  Nearly $1.1 million disappeared from Chancery Court coffers over the last five years.

"First order of business is bookkeeping," said Robertson.

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz called for an investigation of Chancery Court after an audit uncovered inconsistencies in delinquent property tax bookkeeping.

"The people who are really losing besides the taxpayers, who are going to have to make this up, are those citizens whose property was taken from them for taxes," said Ritz.  "They're due a refund and now the county doesn't have the money to pay them because some employee stole it."

Bookkeeper Brandon Gunn, his supervisor Veronica Nelson and clerk and master Dewun Settle have all resigned.

Ritz has filed an ethics complaint against Wanda Wright, the current court's chief administrative officer.

"There was too much going on too many times," said Ritz.  "There had to be a lot of people who knew."

Robertson hit the ground running Wednesday.  He signed checks over $5,000, computerized the delinquent tax books and managed personnel.  He said he does not know if he expects any firings.

"That's what we'll have to find out," said Robertson.

When the county began attempting to recover the missing money from insurance, Traveler's Insurance dropped coverage for all of Shelby County's courts.

"Obviously, we've got to get a new company," said Ritz.  "I suspect our premium is going to go way up."

No charges have been filed.  Ritz was told unofficially that the state and FBI are investigating.

Monday, the court will begin the search for a permanent clerk and master for a six-year term.  Interviews are October 31.  Robertson's last day is December 31.

Click here to read the letter Travelers sent to the county.

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