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City attorney: FBI finds nothing to investigate in PEDC

PEDC_depot_sliderThe Federal Bureau of Investigation may have determined there is nothing to investigate in the Paris Economic Development Corp. after all.

City Attorney Kent McIlyar told City Council members Monday that he had been in touch with Danny Defenbaugh about the forensic investigation his firm has been conducting into PEDC.

“He had been contacted by the supervisory agent with the FBI office in Sherman,” McIlyar said. “They had reviewed the information that Defenbaugh had submitted to the FBI office related to the PEDC forensic investigation, and it did not rise to the level of opening a criminal investigation.”

He made the announcement after a 10-minute closed session near the end of the council meeting, after which Mayor Matt Frierson gave an account of a phone conference he had with Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Grossnickle, City Manager John Godwin, McIlyar and Defenbaugh.

Matt Frierson
Matt Frierson

The mayor said he was not satisfied with the report PEDC Chair Rebecca Clifford gave at the June 3 meeting when she announced the FBI was looking into possible criminal charges. Frierson called a special session June 12 to discuss the matter. Before that, he said, he wanted to speak with Defenbaugh to see what information might be forthcoming.

“As with the rest of the council, my only concern is the resolution of this matter,” he said. “In no way, shape or form was there any conversation about shutting down an investigation or stopping any work undertaken by Defenbaugh & Associates. The conversation centered around areas that were left unresolved by the presentation to the council.”

That conversation allegedly led to some inconsistencies with the earlier report.

“The council was told there was no written report available, despite contractual language stating that this was to be expected within 30 days of the contract conception in addition to weekly oral reports – which again were supplied only to the board chair,” Fierson said. “The council was told documents had been turned over to the FBI and no further comment was given. However, when Mr. Defenbaugh was asked about the lack of written reports in accordance with the contract, he said he was instructed by Mrs. Clifford not to produce a written report. It was this factor that led to the special meeting being cancelled. This is a matter best discussed in public.”

At the June 3 meeting, council members asked about charges incurred when Defenbaugh visited Paris prior to actually getting the contract. Clifford said she looked into it, found it was a discounted rate for travel expenses and apparently left it at that.

“Mr. Defenbaugh, however, said when he was invited to Paris, he was told the charged would be ‘taken care of,’” Frierson said.

Clifford reported that meeting took place in the office of Councilman A.J. Hashmi, then the mayor, who was only in attendance briefly before being called away. Frierson said the investigator indicated Bill Strathern was also at the meeting.

PEDC interim executive director Shannon Barrentine
PEDC interim executive director Shannon Barrentine

“Mrs. Clifford identified herself and (Interim PEDC Director) Shannon Barrentine as those in contact with Defenbaugh & Associates. She did not identify anyone further,” Frierson said. “Mr. Defenbaugh was asked the same question and he added that Mr. Strathern was also involved in supplying information, to the point that Mr. Strathern physically took documents to Mr. Defenbaugh’s office.”

Hashmi expressed some doubt about Frierson’s account.

“I want to believe what you have said 100 percent, but the thing is I am short on the fact that I was not part of that conversation, or not me, but all of us were not part of the conversation,” Hashmi said. “To say there is not an FBI investigation, OK. We don’t want the city to look bad. But the thing about it is, I’d like to hear him say that.”

Defenbaugh reportedly indicated it could be some time before a final report is ready, as all he had at the time was rough preliminaries. The council voted Monday to give him until July 28.

He was scheduled to give his findings to an open session of the PEDC board last week, but Clifford said in a memo that had to be cancelled because of Frierson’s phone call.

“The one thing which I did not understand is there was supposed to be an open presentation by Mr. Defenbaugh at the PEDC meeting on Monday,” Hashmi said. “What was so urgent that it needed to be checked with Defenbaugh & Associates that could not wait two weekend days for all of us to be able to hear it?”

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