|Hundreds turn out for meeting after C-P superintendent arrested|
|Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor|
Jan. 18, 2007 - Como-Pickton Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Christopher Bryan Neal was arrested Wednesday afternoon on multiple felony warrants following an investigation into allegations of misuse of district funds and property.
�Neal, who was suspended with pay by the C-P school board Saturday, was arrested on one felony warrant for forging a check to himself and two felony warrants for giving a false statement for property or credit to obtain property.
Hopkins County Sheriff's Cpl. Gliff Gloar and Deputy Bobby Neal arrested the 36-year-old superintendent at his Como residence at 2:54 p.m. Wednesday and took him to the county jail. He was arraigned Thursday morning and was released before noon after posting $10,000 bail per charge.
Neal is alleged to have forged Lydia Walden's name to a check written on the school's "impressed account" to Neal in the amount of $1,769.90.
"His signature was on it, and he needed another signature, too. Lydia Walden didn't sign that," District Attorney Martin Braddy said. "That was one of several checks we believe to be forged. The way our office generally handles cases with multiple forgery is we accept one check and go forward from there.
"We handled this as we would any other case," he added.
Braddy said Thursday morning Neal could potentially be charged independently for each forged document, depending on the outcome of the ongoing investigation.
Neal was also accused of giving false statements at a local farm implement dealer to purchase a $19,134.60 Kubota tractor, as well as an $11,806.56 all-terrain vehicle tractor on behalf of the school district, which he is accused of keeping for his own use. He reportedly had been having money taken out of his paycheck to pay for the items. He did not advertise for bids for the equipment, and received the benefits of the school discount and no taxes on the equipment, Braddy said.
The farm equipment portion of the investigation could feasibly be turned over to the attorney general's office, or the charges changed "to better suit what he had done," the district attorney added.
School board members reportedly became concerned after learning of the purchase of the tractor and ATV and began checking into the matter. They contacted local authorities, and the sheriff's office launched an investigation into Neal's conduct at the end of last week. The board was told to keep a close watch, and in doing so discovered some financial discrepancies.
When officers saw Neal's wife, also a district employee, at the school around midnight Friday, they notified board members. An emergency meeting was called Saturday, and the superintendent was suspended with pay pending the results of the investigation. He was ordered to turn in all keys and school property, including computers and other equipment.
Neal was in the county jail Wednesday night when the Como-Pickton school board met for a regular board meeting. More than 200 people attended, with a number expressing concerns about Neal and recent reassignments of administrators and middle school personnel. Several people also wanted to know "what was going on" and what actions the board was taking.
The board was to meet in executive session to review the superintendent's contract and conduct its annual evaluation of him, plus discuss an outline of the superintendent's duties. All those items were tabled following the closed-door session, with the board voting to keep Neal on suspension with pay, and requiring him to hand over all school property.
The district attorney said Neal is thought to still have in his possession a school laptop computer.
As of Thursday morning Neal was had not spoken to authorities on the matter despite attempts to contact him for an interview, Braddy said.
School board president Mark Humphrey said the board cannot comment on the investigation in order not to compromise it, but have taken all the action possible, given there have thus far only been accusations.
Neal, who was hired in March of 2001, still has two years left on his contract.
While reviewing receipts for the monthly bills at Wednesday's meeting, board members also discovered four items for which the board questioned the validity of or noted lacking receipts and information supporting the costs. They included bills to from ExxonMobil, Barnes & Noble, Fieldhouse Sports and Amazon Credit Plan.
They also voted to require the superintendent to reimburse the district $324.26 in lodging, fees and dues, and meals, plus the cost of Tony Martinez' salary for the two days Neal and Martinez attended an administrators conference for which Martinez received no educational credit.