DA subpoenas ‘COVID Bonus’ records
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia County District Attorney Steve Billy confirmed during the county school board’s October 12 meeting that his office is conducting a criminal investigation into some aspect of the Escambia County Board of Education’s handling of federal COVID relief money.
The district attorney issued the confirmation during his remarks in support of Superintendent of Education Michele McClung prior to the board’s 4-3 vote not to extend McClung’s contract.
“I would normally not get involved with things of this nature, as far as an employment situation,” he said. “But we discussed everything in a meeting recently that people in the communities have been hearing things from — not all the board members — but some board members, things about Ms. McClung, vicious personal attacks, things that she had done, that she was going to be indicted by a grand jury.”
Billy defended the outgoing superintendent by calling the possibility of a contract non-renewal, “Washington politics brought to Escambia County, Alabama.”
He then confirmed that his office is looking into some alleged improprieties regarding the money paid to seven individuals, including former assistant superintendent Sandra Reid and former CSFO Julie Madden, for “additional duties as a result of the administration, formulation and implementation of ESSER funding” during the four years in question.
“I don’t control much in Escambia County, Alabama,” the DA said, “but I do control the grand jury of this county and I can tell you this lady right here [McClung] is not going to be brought before a grand jury because there’s nothing to bring before a grand jury.”
He added that, “There are some other matters that will be brought before a grand jury that I’m not at liberty to discuss because by law that’s a secret investigation.”
According to documents obtained by Atmore News, a subpoena was issued by Billy and served September 19 upon current Chief Schools Financial Officer Rochelle Richardson and/or Ashley Fore, the system’s payroll and insurance bookkeeper.
The subpoena demanded certified copies of “any and all checks” written to employees and labeled as “COVID” payments or “COVID BONUS” for the Fiscal Years 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.
According to the subpoena, the documents were required for “the purpose of the furtherance of an investigation / prosecution into a criminal matter.”
The supplemental pay in question totals $5,300 per month and was granted on a year-to-year basis, according to a schedule approved in August 2021 by former Superintendent of Education John Knott.
Asked after the October 12 BOE session if he could shed more light on the investigation, the district attorney replied, “It will come out soon enough.”