11/13/08 — County: Jail liaison falsified time cards

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County: Jail liaison falsified time cards

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 13, 2008 1:46 PM

Jail liaison Corin Craft was let go last week for allegedly falsifying three time cards -- cards signed by her supervisor, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell.

County officials say Ms. Craft campaigned for Braswell during some of the time she said she was on the county clock.

Ms. Craft, who denied falsifying the time cards, admitted campaigning for Braswell, at times at the judge's instructions, but said she always worked the 30 hours a week she was paid for.

The time cards, Ms. Craft said, do not reflect the times she arrived at work early or worked late. Nor, she said, does it reflect the times Braswell instructed her to campaign on his behalf.

Braswell, who lost his re-election bid to Arnold O. Jones II earlier this month, disputed her statement, saying Ms. Craft was a volunteer campaigner and that he never told her to campaign for him in the performance of her job duties.

Ms. Craft also said Jones is responsible for ending her employment. The judge-elect said he had no part in the action taken against Ms. Craft.

It was not the first time Ms. Craft was allowed to "modify" her time, Braswell said. He said he did not think modifying the time cards would be an issue since she worked the required 30 hours and did her job.

Ms. Craft, who is actually employed through Mega Force Staffing Services of Goldsboro, said the company's simple time cards do not allow for any deviation from the basic time in, lunch out, lunch in, time out.

"The time card does not allow for gaps," she said. "It is just basic straight time. I was doing what I was told. He (Braswell) signed my sheets verifying that I worked the hours."

Falsifying documents is grounds for immediate dismissal for any full-time or part-time county employee, County Manager Lee Smith said.

He explained that in this case, because Ms. Craft was hired through the temporary agency, that contract was canceled.

"We have done that before," Smith said. "She was terminated Nov. 5 because of the time cards."

Smith said supervisors are responsible for knowing the hours their employees work. Any supervisor who knowingly approves fraudulent time cards could be subject to disciplinary action or termination as well, Smith said. As an elected official, Braswell does not fall under Smith's authority.

Paul Ross, executive director of the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission, said that a judge, or any state employee for that matter, "is not to use state resources, equipment, personnel, supplies, to further their private interest."

He said no formal charges are pending against Braswell.

"I cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation or complaint," he said.

The commission, Ross said, has jurisdiction over judges for conduct that occurs while they are in office. Judges can still be held accountable for that conduct even after leaving office.

Smith said Ms. Craft had come to him seeking an explanation of why she had been fired. He said he explained to her it was because of the time cards. Smith said the conversation lasted only a few minutes.

"She thanked me and left," Smith said.

Smith and county attorney Borden Parker both were quick to point out that Ms. Craft was not a county employee.

Contract employees do not enjoy the same protection state law provides for government employees in regards to the release of personnel information.

Smith said funding for Ms. Craft's position was set to expire Dec. 31. He did not indicate that any decision had been reached to extend it. The position costs the county about $26,000 annually.

Ms. Craft's job duties included managing inmate mail, maintaining a list of court-appointed attorney visits with incarcerated clients and checking out other charges an inmate might be facing. The idea was to improve jail efficiency and was touted by Braswell during his campaign as a successful, cost-saving idea he championed in conjunction with other county officials.

Parker said three time cards were in question for the weeks of Oct. 18, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. He said he did not know the specifics about the actual number of hours involved.

"She was definitely not working for the county during the time that she marked that she was," Parker said. "In my opinion, it was justified for the county to have taken the action that it did."

Parker notified Braswell of the action through a brief handwritten note.

Smith said Parker and the county's human resources department brought the issue to his attention. He said the county was contacted about the time cards, but said he was not sure by whom.

He said it was his understanding that Ms. Craft had been a campaign worker for Braswell.

Ms. Craft said some of her reasoning for campaigning was job security.

"I worked for Judge Braswell as the court liaison officer and I did what he told me to," she said. "He was my supervisor and whatever we told me to do, I did."

That, she said, included campaigning for him.

"I passed out materials trying to get the judge re-elected so that the position would continue," Ms. Craft said. "He instructed me to do it, but I also volunteered to do it. I was there many days (campaigning) until 7 o'clock. I was there on Saturdays. I did not work (campaign) at the polls for my entire working hours. I also worked at the office. As far as I am concerned I did not falsify documents because I was doing what I was told by my supervisor."

She said Braswell was aware that she was campaigning for him at the polls during the hours she normally would have been in the office.

"I was surprised when it ended the way it did because I was doing what I was told," Ms. Craft said. "I did not look for another job before the election was over because I felt like if Judge Braswell got re-elected my position would be made permanent because I saved the county over $670,000 since last July."

Asked if he had told Ms. Craft to campaign for him, Braswell said, "Of course not. That was certainly not a part of her job duties. She volunteered her time, like a lot of other people did. Our conversation was that if it (campaigning) was during her normal hours she would come in early or leave late. She provided me with evidence of her work product and that she was doing what she was supposed to do."

He said it was not the first time Ms. Craft had modified her time so that she could go to school for a child or to leave early or come in late as long as she made up the time.

"She was the kind of worker who did more than was required of her," Braswell said. "I was extremely impressed by her work ethic. I had no hesitation to allow her to modify her time. I was not concerned one bit. As far as I am concerned she was proud of the job she accomplished and appreciated the opportunity to have the job."

Braswell said he did not "have anything to do" with the time cards, keeping up with them or verifying the time.

"I basically just signed them," he said.

He said he was often out of place holding court when the time came to sign the cards. He said Ms. Craft worked in a different office without direct supervision since he was not in his office every day.

"I did review the work product," he said. "I was satisfied she was performing the tasks that needed to be done."

Ms. Craft said Braswell had been in court on the day she had been fired.

"By the time (Braswell) got back up with them (county officials), they had already decided to terminate my position," she said. "So he did not have any input as far as I know."

She blamed her firing entirely on Jones.

"Arnie Jones raised this question to get my position eliminated. He did this before 24 hours were up of him being elected. I am not trying to be ugly, but this was done vindictively. I know that because I went to his office and I asked him why he did that and that it was wrong for him to go get my position eliminated. He said it was because I was ugly to him and his mama."

Jones confirmed that Ms. Craft had come to his office and tried to blame him for her firing and that he had seen her campaigning at the polls.

"I had nothing to do with Corin Craft being hired or fired," he said. "(Her allegation) is not true. I told her I had nothing to do with the county firing her. I am not in a position to hire or fire anyone. That was not my decision to make."

Jones said he has been busy trying to close his law office and handle other issues before being sworn in as judge and had not addressed the liaison position and its effectiveness.

He said it is "too early" to make a decision on the position and that he would need to look what the position's benefit is.

"I will look at it and address personnel with the county and the position," he said.

Smith said he was told later that Ms. Craft had deleted files from her office computer. The files were recovered from backups, he said.

She confirmed that she had deleted some Word and Excel documents.

"The job was created by Judge Braswell and he had it in words and I put it into action," she said. "When I got the call that the job was terminated, there was no evidence left that it would be picked up by anyone else because the job was terminated. Nobody was sent for me to train so it was not going to be continued."

She said she deleted the files thinking they would no longer be needed.

Braswell said he was unaware of any concerns about deleted files.