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.