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Former Center, Missouri, city clerk sentenced to prison

Tracey Ray

ST. LOUIS (WGEM) -- The former clerk in Center, Missouri, has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay the city $314,889.59, according to the State's Attorney for Eastern Missouri.

State's Attorney Sayler Fleming said Tracey Ray, 48, appeared before United States District Court Judge Rodney W. Sippel on Wednesday.

Ray pleaded guilty in June to wire fraud and theft.

Ray also faces charges for allegedly shooting a sheriff and a deputy after they questioned her about the financial concerns in 2019.

Ray had been the City Clerk of Center, Missouri, since 2004.

Prosecutors claimed, beginning in January 2015 through July 2019, Ray engaged in a scheme to defraud and obtain money from Center, Missouri, and its residents in an approximate amount of $315,000, by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.

In September of 2020, Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway released an audit of the City of Center that detailed how Ray misappropriated taxpayer funds.

Galloway released a statement on Wednesday following Ray's sentencing.

"Tracey Ray abused her position of public trust by stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the taxpayers of this small town, but she didn't get away with it because of our audit," Auditor Galloway said. "I am proud of the work done by the Public Corruption and Fraud Division in my office to uncover this theft and then to work with local and federal law enforcement to bring about justice in this case," said Galloway.

The audit, which focused on the period between January 2015 and July 2019, was performed by the Auditor's Public Corruption and Fraud Division after information was received through the state’s whistleblower hotline. 

According to the report, a whistleblower contacted the State Auditor's Office regarding lack of financial reporting in the city. The office began investigating and was then contacted by the mayor who requested information to initiate an audit. Additional investigation revealed concerns specific to Ray.

On July 2, 2019, after being questioned by city officials, Ray was 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 an audit.

The audit found more than $200,000 in city funds were used to pay Ray's personal credit card bills that included charges to Amazon, Walmart, hotels, restaurants and a hair salon. City funds were also used to pay more than $35,000 of personal expenses, including tax bills, mortgage payments and life insurance policy premiums.

The audit shows that after the board discontinued health insurance coverage for city employees in 2014, Ray used $62,000 in city funds to pay for a health insurance policy for herself and her family.

Additionally, the audit found missing cash totaling at least $7,000 that was collected but never deposited. The audit also questioned a number of payments, transactions and payroll disbursements that lacked proper documentation.

The audit found there was insufficient oversight of Ray, and she provided inaccurate financial information and falsified records to the board to cover up her actions.

The audit also showed that lack of documentation related to compensation of city officials and employees also meant that it was difficult to determine the accuracy and appropriateness of some payroll payments.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Missouri State Auditor’s Office and Ralls County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.

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