Pierce purchased small arsenal

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About a dozen guns, 149 ammo boxes and women’s jeans among his ‘city’ purchases

By Cindy Simpson

Former Rockwood public works director Tom Pierce amassed an arsenal of at least 11 guns and plenty of ammo on the city’s dime, according to a state investigative audit released Wednesday.
Pierce, who was indicted last week, is accused of using a city credit card and store card to purchase at least $32,725 in items between 2009 and 2012.
The charges include two counts of unauthorized use of a credit card and official misconduct. 
The items Pierce is believed to have illegally purchased include $11,900 in guns, ammunition and related items; $7,263 in clothing, including women’s jeans; $5,697 in cameras and other photographic supplies; $4,190 in online college courses and $3,675 in other miscellaneous purchases, including music and movies.
A status report hearing is scheduled for July 1.
Rockwood Mayor James Watts wanted to say little about the investigation for fear it would damage the case, but said supporting records were not presented regarding the purchases.
“The receipts were just not showing up in the finance office,” Watts said.
He admitted more oversight at city hall should have occurred.
“There is fault to be laid in several areas. We did something as quickly as we found out what was going on. That doesn’t make any excuses for what happened,” Watts said.
Watts said a combination of things were to blame.
“Should everything had been working as it should have been, (former city finance officer) Joby (Lancaster) should have been taking all the purchases to Jim Hines; Jim Hines should have approved it.”
“There was a breakdown,” Watts said. “We had no idea that there were these kind of purchases being made,” Watts said.
Lancaster was let go later after numerous fines and penalties for late payment of city payroll taxes.
Rene Brison, assistant director for Comptroller’s Division of Investigations, was more direct.She indicated the first failure in oversight was with the Lawrence, although she refused to name her.
“The first level of oversight should have been by the former accountant. She allowed Mr. Pierce to pay the credit cards by phone. She would have been the one in a position to know that,” Brison said.
She said the finance officer did not require Pierce to provide documentation and did not make officials aware that Pierce was making payments by phone.
“She was the one responsible for paying those bills, and as part of that to look at the documentation to see if it was sufficient, and she was not doing that,” Brison said. “She did not ask Mr. Pierce to turn in the payment or receipts related to the charges to see if they were legitimate city charges.”
While there was little to no paperwork regarding the credit card purchases, it’s not clear why it was not noticed that debits were coming out of the general fund checking account.
“Very honestly, I don’t think our bank statements ever got reconciled, for whatever reason,” Watts said.
Pierce’s gun purchases included a tactical shotgun, a rifle and a wide assortment of pistols, all  registered to him.
Other items included scopes, tactical sights and holsters.
He also purchased clothing such as polo shirts, cargo shorts, underwear, socks, women’s jeans, suit separates and running shoes.
The audit finds in November 2008, public works and park and recreation employees were given an allowance up to $100 a year for work pants, work shirts and work boots.
Pierce also is accused of purchasing two Olympus cameras at $1,200 each.
He also took business management associate’s-degree program courses.
“He indicated the former mayor (Mike “Brillo” Miller) had given him permission to do it (the classes), and we found that not to be the case,” Watts said.
The audit found no documentation to support the credit card charges.
“City files contained no supporting documentation for these questionable charges. After he was confronted by city officials in February 2012, Mr. Pierce returned to the city 12 guns, 149 boxes of ammunition, and various other items with a total cost of more than $9,000,” the audit said.
Watts said items returned also included the camera equipment and weapons-related items.
The audit said handwritten notes in city records indicated Pierce purchased at least 13 guns with city funds.
Investigators could not obtain vendor or third-party documentation for the purchase of two of these guns.
Watts said the notes likely refer to the notes taken when Pierce was interviewed by city officials after the purchases were discovered.
Both the current mayor and previous mayor told Comptroller investigators they had no knowledge of the purchases and would not have given permission for them to occur.
Other irregularities noted in the investigative audit were accounting classes online for $985.
Watts said Lawrence took unauthorized classes, and agreed to pay restitution.
Pierce is not the first Rockwood official to come under scrutiny by the state.
The late Howard Butler, who was former city recorder and judge, was held responsible for missing city funds of more than $425,000.
An investigation was started in December 2000 after Butler told then-mayor Harold Holloway he had taken the money.
He was found dead in his home by what was determined a self inflicted gun shot a short time later.