Beech Mountain investigation ends
by Kellen Moore and Matthew Hundley
The Beech Mountain Police Department opened the investigation June 5 following a complaint from resident Larry Price, who said he believed more than $160,000 was missing and that criminal activity might have been involved.
Throughout the investigation, town officials claimed that Price's accounting, while thorough, was based on a misunderstanding of the recreation center's records.
Both the State Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney's office have declined to get involved, closing the book on one of the serious issues that has recently turned neighbor against neighbor on Beech Mountain.
"As of this time, due to no criminal activity, due to no illegal financial activities and additionally no money was found to be missing through numerous searches and audits, this case is closed," Capt. Jerry Turbyfill wrote in the investigation report released Friday.
Throughout the investigation, Turbyfill zeroed in on cash receipts by the recreation department, concluding that thefts related to credit cards or checks "generally leave a clear trail."
According to his report, Turbyfill spoke to Town Council member Paul Piquet, finance officer Nancy Johnson, Town Manager Randy Feierabend and recreation director Daniel Scagnelli.
He also reviewed the town's annual audits and spoke with Kathy Brown of Bryce Holder CPA, the firm that conducts the town's audits, who confirmed that no irregularities had been found.
Several of those interviewed said they believed the discrepancy was due to the reporting system the recreation center chose to use. According to the report, the total number of pass holders differs from the number of passes purchased because town employees get free passes and because family passes include several pass holders under only one payment.
A person multiplying the pass cost by the number of pass holders would get an overinflated revenue total, the report suggests.
Turbyfill talked to Watauga County Parks and Recreation, Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation and the Avery County YMCA to compare record-keeping practices. Buckeye Recreation Center's process is typical, according to the investigation.
On Wednesday, Beech Mountain police talked with Special Agent Chris Laws, who said the SBI would not investigate, according to the report. Assistant District Attorney John Middlebrook said his office would not consider criminal charges, "as it appeared no criminal activity had taken place," the report also states.
Price, who initially raised the concerns, said Friday that he still believed that the recreation center was intentionally deceptive about its pass sales in an effort to build a favorable impression of the center among residents. He acknowledged that such actions, even if true, were not criminal and could not be proven.
He also criticized the depth of the investigation, saying it simply went to each stakeholder and asked, "Did you do anything wrong?"
Price said that while one of his concerns has been addressed, he is still bothered by the town's budgeting and plans to replace aging water and sewer systems.
"It's an ongoing battle," he said.
Town staff held a meeting Thursday night " once again to a packed house " to address questions regarding Beech Mountain's infrastructure, taxation and future plans.
Mayor Rick Owen said Friday that he felt the allegations were "blown out of proportion" but that he and other town leaders were working to address all concerns.
"It's been trying, but we are committed to getting beyond this issue and any other issues and letting the citizens know that we are concerned," Owen said.