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Esto fires clerk amid embezzlement allegations

ESTO – The Town of Esto held an emergency meeting Tuesday, voting to fire the town clerk and ask that a criminal investigation be launched into allegations of embezzlement.

The council voted 2-1 to terminate clerk Yvonee Hagans, citing embezzlement of nearly $10,000.

Only three of the five council members were present at the meeting: Josh Davenport, Greg Wells, and Hugh Oney. Council President Teresa Harrison was not present due to being out of town.

Councilman John Hagans – who is married to the town clerk – declined to attend the meeting, sending word to the other council members and town attorney Michelle Jordan that he believed the meeting to be improper and that he could not “in good conscience attend.”

Yvonee Hagans was also absent, telling Holmes County Times-Advertiser that she was instructed not to attend, although she did not clarify who gave that instruction.

Councilman Davenport stated during the meeting that Clerk Hagans had been notified of the meeting and that her attendance had been requested.

Council members say the concerns stem from a review of all employee paystubs that took place after a public works employee questioned his tax withholdings.

Krystal Bien stated she was working at town hall when the employee came in to ask about his pay stub and tax withholdings, which Bien noticed were “much lower” than they should have been. Bien decided to review other employees’ stubs to determine if the withholding error was an isolated incident.

It was then that Bien says she realized Hagans had given herself “a substantial raise.”

“I remember Yvonee telling me she made $14 an hour, but her stubs read $14.95 as her rate of pay,” Bien stated in the meeting. “It was then that Mr. Davenport came into the office, and we began to look a little deeper.”

Bien said she noticed a check reflecting a payment of $6,737.50 made to Hagans on March 31, 2020. The check lacked notation of what it was for and was simply labeled “regular.”

Hagans says the financial record was not an actual check, rather a reflection of what she made that quarter.

“That is not a check I received,” said Hagans. “That is part of the report showing what I had made for that first quarter. We had just switched over to the third-party check writer company, and that was them showing what I made from January to March that year.” The payment record shows taxes being withheld on that amount and is listed under earnings.

According to the council, Hagans was on salary for an 80-hour pay period at $12.03 an hour until September 2020, which records reflect was paid correctly. Beginning with the first paycheck in September 2020, employees were changed to hourly rates with 36-hour work weeks. Town records show that Hagans’ rate of pay was changed, resulting in her total pay remaining the same, despite the reduction in hours, equating to a pay increase from $12.03 an hour to $13.75 an hour.

Records show her pay rate increased again on September 25, 2020, at which time records show her rate of pay at $14.95 an hour. This rate continued until the current pay period.

Hagans says her rate of pay was always $13.75 and that her raise to $14.95 was authorized after the change from salary to hourly.  Former council member Randy Torrance states he approved Hagans for a raise to $14 an hour in July 2021 but is unsure if it had gone into effect before he resigned in August.

“I remember telling her she could go up to $14 an hour,” said Torrance. “There was a lot of back and forth between her and another employee at that time concerning raises, so I don’t know for certain if it ever went into effect because I resigned in August.”

The council voted unanimously to report the matter to law enforcement for investigation. A claim on the town’s insurance is expected to be made in an attempt to recoup some of lost funds, which are estimated to be just under $10,000.

Bien has been named interim town clerk until the position can be posted and filled. Hagans was formally notified of the council’s decision on Wednesday.

Esto Town Council will meet again in regular session at 6 p.m. on Dec. 21.

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