By John Balch
Two years after an investigative audit began looking in to the handling of the South Pike County School District’s band funds, a felony theft charge has been filed against the district’s former band director.
An application and affidavit for warrant of arrest was filed March 3 in Pike County Circuit Court against Robert W. Tucker, 36, who now resides in Carl Junction, Mo., where his Facebook page states he works as a sales consultant at a local car dealership. Tucker is accused of taking and exercising “unauthorized control” of monies from fund-raising activities that belonged to the school district in the amount of $3,079.
The affidavit was prepared by Special Agent Jimmie O. Thomas of the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division and signed by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jana Bradford. The theft of property charge was filed as a Class D felony, punishable with a prison term of up to six years and a fine up to $10,000.
Tucker, who was hired in June 2011 as Rattler Band director, resigned in February 2012 after being suspended for using profanity in the classroom and pending the outcome of an investigation in to “financial irregularities” discovered by school officials.
During Tucker’s paid suspension, Superintendent Roger Featherston sent him a letter that requested a written explanation “including as much evidence as possible” concerning funds for the band’s T-shirt and beef jerky sales. A second letter was also sent to Tucker again asking for explanation, but Tucker never replied to the letters and he submitted his resignation on Feb. 24. He and his family left Arkansas on Feb. 26, headed for his home state of Michigan.
According to information filed on the case, the audit determined $2,912 was unaccounted for along with unauthorized disbursements of $167. “Unaccounted-for funds included $984 in T-shirt sales and fundraiser proceeds of $1,928 in beef jerky sales,” according to the audit. The unauthorized disbursements included $66 for “groceries and dog food” and a reimbursement of $101 without adequate documentation.
Tucker told Agent Thomas in August 2013 that he had “received a letter from the State of Arkansas and he was under the impression that this was all a misunderstanding and that the school district was to blame.” He also stated he had reimbursed the district for the personal items he “inadvertently” purchased using the school district’s Walmart credit card. Featherston disputed Tucker’s claim and told the investigator that Tucker did not follow school district procedures and had not reimbursed the school for any of the unaccounted-for monies.
Tucker’s handling of the privately-funded Rattler Band Booster’s account was also part of the initial investigative audit but no charge has been brought in relation to his use of a booster debit card to purchase personal items and food in the amount of $126.37. The day he left for Michigan, Tucker paid the band boosters back with $184 cash.
In May 2012, Tucker disputed the findings of the audit when he was contacted via Facebook. He told The Nashville Leader that he gave away close to a $1,000 worth of band T-shirts to office personnel and teachers. He added there were still band T-shirts in the band hall when he left.
“(The T-shirts) were never a fundraiser, although they tried to call it that,” Tucker wrote in response. “It was an expense, and I’m sure that the number of shirts I gave away will match the missing funds.”
As for the $1,928 unaccounted-for funds, Tucker replied, “I told the investigator to do an audit of the instrument room now, and put it against the inventory at the beginning of the year. I purchased a large number of instruments and they should find many instruments that were not there at the beginning of the year, at least 8-10 instruments were purchased, and that would show you where the missing $1,900 is.”
Tucker also questioned whether the instrument comparison inventory was ever conducted. “I requested the instrument inventory comparison months ago, and have seen no evidence of it being completed.”
When questioned by Agent Thomas, Tucker said he had used the money from the fundraisers to pay cash for band instruments at various pawn shops and yards sales and “did not think to get a receipt for them.” Tucker also told Agent Thomas that the school had done an inventory and it was proven the district had 15 or 16 new instruments he had purchased.
When Tucker was contacted last week, he said he was unaware of any charge being brought against him and stood by his claims he made to the newspaper in 2012.