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Former Center, Missouri, clerk indicted for stealing city money

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Tracey Ray

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (WGEM) -- A federal grand jury has indicted former Center, Missouri, Clerk Tracey Ray, according to Jeff Jensen, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri.

The 48-yearold Center, Missouri, resident is charged with wire fraud and federal program theft.

Ray was arrested on November 17 and had her initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge David D. Noce on November 18, according to Jensen.

The indictment states that Ray was responsible for collecting and receipting all monies received by the city, paying the bills for the city and had full access to the city’s several bank accounts. Ray was authorized to sign checks on the city’s bank accounts. She received and reconciled the monthly bank statements on those accounts. She was also responsible for posting the city’s financial transactions to its computerized accounting system and preparing financial reports for the Board of Aldermen.

The indictment alleges that beginning in or about January, 2015 and continuing through on or about July 3, 2019, Ray engaged in a scheme to defraud and obtain money from Center in an approximate amount of $317,325.5.

Ray is accused on approximately 30 occasions of using Center bank funds to pay for charges on her personal GM credit card. Center funds allegedly used to pay for personal charges on Ray’s GM credit card totaled approximately $206,342.53, and were for such personal expenses as retail vendor charges, entertainment, lodging and travel, hair salons, restaurants and grocery store charges.

These personal credit card payments were allegedly made either by Ray’s issuance of Center bank checks, or by Ray’s wire transfer of Center bank funds. Further, through these unauthorized credit card charges and payments, Ray is accused of earning and spending an additional $1,911.00 in reward funds.

On approximately 39 occasions, Ray is accused of issuing Center bank account checks in the approximate total amount of $62,537.76 to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to pay for the premiums on a family health insurance policy, as well as on life and disability policies for her and her family members.

The indictment also states Ray issued five additional Center payroll checks to herself in the total amount of approximately $3,580.00, depositing each of those checks into her own personal bank account. On 49 occasions, Ray allegedly issued checks on one or more City bank accounts, in the total approximate amount of $35,546.85, to directly pay for the purchases of personal items and services unrelated to the legitimate business and operations of Center. Ray is accused of issuing these Center checks to make personal purchases at a number of retailers, such as Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Walmart, and Hobby Lobby, as well as to pay for her personal residential mortgage and personal insurance policies. She also issued one or more of these Center checks to her family members, unrelated to the legitimate business and operations of Center. Further, Ray, as Center’s City Clerk, allegedly received cash payments from Center residents for various city charges, but failed to deposit those cash receipts into the appropriate Center bank account. Instead, Ray is accused of using those cash proceeds, in the total amount of approximately $7,407.45, for her own personal use, unrelated to the legitimate business and operations of Center without the knowledge and authority of Center and its Board of Aldermen.

In order to conceal her scheme from Center and its Board of Aldermen, Ray allegedly falsified the cash balances of one or more Center bank accounts on financial reports she prepared for monthly Board of Aldermen meetings. Ray is also accused of preparing false and incomplete lists of bills to be paid which she submitted for monthly Board of Aldermen meetings. Further, Ray allegedly falsified internal Center financial accounting records to make it appear that the unauthorized checks and wires she issued from Center bank accounts were made to legitimate third party vendors who had purportedly provided actual services or materials to Center.

According to Jensen the charge of wire fraud carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000. The charge of federal program theft carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

On July 2, 2019, after being questioned by city officials, Ray was also involved in an incident in which she exchanged gunfire with Ralls County Sheriff's deputies. As a result, the Missouri Attorney General's Office filed felony charges for assault and armed criminal action.

The Board of Aldermen voted to terminate Ray's employment on July 3, the same day the board formally requested a state audit.

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway released the results of that audit in September which detailed how Ray, misappropriated more than $300,000 in taxpayer funds.

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Jim Roberts

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