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VOL. 124 | NO. 17 | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Report: County Clerk CAO, Three Others Took Gifts And Tips

By Bill Dries

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The chief administrative officer of the Shelby County Clerk’s office was taking gift cards and gift certificates from local auto dealers to help them with car titles and other auto paperwork, according to a report from the Shelby County Attorney’s office.

The results of the report by Deputy County Attorney Danny Presley names Charles Nichols as well as Deputy Administrator Beverly Peete, Title Clerk Maria Janette Bonner and clerical specialist Janice Garrett as either taking such gratuities, filling out titles for motorists who weren’t present or didn’t get the required auto inspection or taking what amounted to tips of a few dollars from customers and putting it in an office fund.

Presley’s report has been sent to Shelby County Clerk Debbie Stamson for her to take the appropriate personnel action. The information could also be forwarded to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office for possible criminal charges.

Nichols is a veteran appointed official who serves as a political appointee of the clerk. He has served under that role not only with Stamson but also under her predecessor, Jayne Creson.

The report includes a memo from 2003 in which Nichols was reprimanded by Title and Registration manager Debra Knight for issuing titles outside of regular procedures.

“Under no circumstances should a title be handed over the counter to a customer unless it is a duplicate title,” Knight wrote Nichols in the July 2003 e-mail. “It may be two weeks before we actually get the record to do the check on this vehicle. Therefore a title is on the street to a vehicle that may be stolen. Charles, we have talked about this before and it must stop.”

Presley’s report shows it did not stop.

Memphis Police interviewed Nichols in December 2007, about a month after Stamson began her own investigation into a Simon mall gift card Gossett Motor Cars gave Nichols in 2006. Police wanted to know about a $500 gift card from Gossett.

“We purchased this for him as a gesture of our appreciation for his hard work and helpfulness in every day business,” reads a Nov. 1, 2008, letter to Stamson from Gossett office manager Nancy Life. The letter puts the amount of the gift card at $252.

Nichols told Presley, according to the report, that he believed it was for $252 but that he wrote Gossett a check for $500 as reimbursement in December (2008).

“Mr. Nichols stated that over the years, he has received gift cards or gift certificates from auto dealers,” the report reads. He also admitted taking a $100 bill from “some guy” he had helped in the past.

Garrett told Presley Bud Davis Cadillac bought Nichols a $50 gift card and her a $25 gift card in 2006 or 2007. She also admitted taking a Starbucks gift card from a customer at the clerk’s office.

“Ms. Garrett stated that she has accepted money on average ‘once a week, twice – once a month; twice a week, maybe,” according to the report. “Ms. Garrett stated that if she were to total the amount she has received over her tenure, it would be between $1,000 to $1,500.”

Read more about the report in Thursday’s edition of The Daily News.

PROPERTY SALES 98 172 17,556
MORTGAGES 101 194 20,229
BUILDING PERMITS 223 349 36,295
BANKRUPTCIES 52 115 11,279