State finds Arriola may have collected nearly $120K in 'fees'

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 2:18pm

In an audit released Wednesday, state investigators found that Davidson County Clerk John Arriola may have collected an estimated $119,400 in marriage ceremony fees.

The Tennessee Comptroller conducted the audit with help from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, interviewing dozens of current and former county clerk employee, vendors used by the clerk, and those who had marriage ceremonies conducted by the clerk.

The audit consists of the state’s findings and recommendations as well as responses from the clerk’s office and at times the auditors rebuttal’s to those responses. Investigators made 11 findings and recommendations, including that Arriola “required” his employees in the marriage department to collect $40 cash fees for ceremonies.

According to the audit, “Marriage department employees were required to place the $40 cash in an envelope for the county clerk along with any other information the couple specifically requested for their vows. The envelopes were delivered personally to the county clerk.”

In June 2011, Arriola told employees to refer to the $40 payments as gratuities instead of fees. Over the period of time covered by the audit — between Sept. 1, 2006, and July 30, 2011 — auditors estimated that Arriola performed about 2,985 marriage ceremonies and collected about $119,400.

The comptroller’s recommendation was that Arriola shouldn’t require a $40 fee in addition to the required taxes and license fees, but that he could “accept, request, or solicit gratuities.”

In its response included in the state audit release, the clerk’s office states that the “finding is without the support in fact or law.”

The clerk’s response continued, “There is no evidence, we repeat no evidence, that anyone who did not pay the requested gratuity was denied the services of the Clerk in performing the ceremony.”

The audit also found several deficiencies in the clerk’s office such as improper reporting and disbursing computer fees to the county trustee’s office; issues over payroll administration; a part-time employee that received full-time benefits; and that management conducted “campaign activities” in the office during business hours.

The audit further states, “The county clerk’s office has weaknesses in internal controls over collections.”

The Metro Office of Internal Audit also conducted its own audit and is expected to release its findings separately.

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson said he recently received the findings in the TBI investigation and is reviewing the material.

“Because this is still an on-going investigation, we can’t speak to any specifics at this stage,” Johnson said. “Our office is reviewing the information gathered by both the TBI and the State Comptroller’s office to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant action by our office.”

Johnson requested the state audit and the TBI investigation last July following an initial news report by WTVF-Channel 5.

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8 Comments on this post:

By: Just Sayin on 1/25/12 at 4:20

Just Sayin, I believe that the man was only trying to supplement his income. Probably in a time when his meger salary, just wasn't cutting it. Maybe he was putting together a retirement fund, and now will probably have to spend it on a lawyer.

By: bfra on 1/25/12 at 4:36

Why has he not been put on leave, until this matter is settled? Without PAY, that is!

By: Mike Burch on 1/26/12 at 8:06

As I pointed out in one of my articles, Nashville "clerks" act like royalty. As soon as they're hired, they waste taxpayer money by throwing out perfectly good signs, brochures, etc., and putting their names in the spotlight. I have never seen a clerk in any business try to grab the starring role. How much money has been wasted over the years because we allow the egos of clerks to run wild?

We can see the same attitude in politicians like Newt Gingrich, who has said publicly that people should do what he says and ignore what he does.

Here's what Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist who wrote a book about Washington corruption said about Gingrich in an interview with David Gregory for the "Meet The Press" webshow "PRESS Pass":

"What do you make of all that?" Gregory asked, referring to the fee of over $1 million that was paid to Newt Gingrich and his company by housing giant Freddie Mac.

Abramoff replied, "This is exactly what I'm talking about. People who come to Washington who have public service and they cash in on it. And they use their public service and their access to make money, and unfortunatley Newt Gingrich is one of them who have done it. But far too many of them do it and one of the reforms I propose in my book is to close permanently the door, the revolving door, betweeen public service and cashing in as a lobbyist."

He added after another question, "I don't know if he'll survive this, to be honest with you, this is a very big thing."

"Why?" Gregory asked.

"Because he is doing, and engaging in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains. The very things that anger the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and everybody who is not in a movement and watches Washington and says why are these guys getting all this money, why do they all become so rich, why do they have these advantages? Unfortunately Newt seems to play right into it."

When Gregory pressed on the "corruption" language and noted it's "a heavy charge," Abramoff replied, "Yes it is. It is corruption. At the end of the day, I say in the book, I believe now, although I didn't believe then unfortunately, that any provision of favor or any provision of anything to members of Congress and their staff is bribery. And any cashing in on it by them coming out later is corruption."

When we let the egos and greed of politicians go unchecked, it costs us lots of money over time. Nashville allows mayors and even clerks to advertise their names on signage and government-produced brochures. We have allowed government offices to create a culture in which politicians are allowed to steal far more money than most bank robbers.

By: freddy on 1/26/12 at 9:03

Mr. Arriola is done, lock him up. Here's a thought -- all the people that "tipped" him $40 should go to his restaurant, eat, and walk out. The tab was paid in advance.

By: ratizbad on 1/26/12 at 9:39

I agree Freddy I think I will do that..Corruption runs rampant in Davidson County
Torrence has been ousted.. Now the county court clerk and I bet there is way more that have not been exposed just yet...

By: bfra on 1/26/12 at 4:44

Torrence got ousted, but with the tune of $80,000 a yr. pension, even after he violated his responsibilities of the office. Plus, last I heard, his 2 boys, hired illegally are still working there. Justice ? ? ? ? ? ? where?

By: wasaw on 1/27/12 at 3:34

Mike Burch, what article were you referring to? I thought this article was about John Arriola. Are you Arriola's friend who is attemting to get attention away from his fee grabbing ways?

Gingrich will be dealt with by the voters in the primaries. Let's resond to the issue at hand, and deal with Arriola now. John will not be be prosecuted by a Democrat District Attorney (Tory Johnson) and will be allowed to walk by the Democrat controlled Metro Council.

At worst, he'll resign and take all the money with him. Why do you think he ran the scam about hiring his campaign manager with no one in the office knowing what he did? Why wasn't the guy punching a time card?

By: RJP on 1/28/12 at 5:32

rjp I agree with Mike Burch ther is alot of waste in Davidson County. They seem to get this from Mayor Dean in our neighborhood we see signs put up. Signs telling us Mayor Dean is doing this repair work,bike lanes and strom drain system. They first have to make up a 4 foot by 8 foot plywood sign hand painted on both sides with 4 by 4 post and have a crew install it in the front of someone's house! What is the cost for this self back slapping?Am sure there is plenty of repairs that this cost could go to.Our streets are in sad shape,so sad you don't dare drive at night.At least in the day time you can see them to dodge them.But at night when you weave and dodge you get pulled over cause the police think your drunk.Arriola, pretty sure you got your salary for marrying people. Do the right thing here,give the money back! Or has it already been passed out to D.A. and council?