After serving for more than a decade as Director of Macon County’s Board of Elections, a Franklin woman is now serving time behind bars at the Buncombe County Detention Center on embezzlement charges.
But the new change of scenery hasn’t been the smoothest transition for the former director, forty-four-year-old Kimberly Michelle Bishop, who was placed in federal custody on February 5–the result of a two-year-long joint investigation by the State Bureau of Investigations and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office.
It all began in January of 2014 when Macon County Manager Derek Roland was alerted to a misappropriation of county funds transacted within the Board of Elections (BOE). Upon further investigation the suspicions of county officials were confirmed, and for five days the BOE office was placed on lockdown effective immediately. While closed, authorities seized all records, locked all bank accounts, cancelled all checks and froze all BOE financial records. Bishop was suspended on paid leave.
Investigators subsequently found that Bishop began issuing BOE paychecks in June 2013 to four individuals, none of whom were approved by the county, nor were ever in the employ of the county. Throughout the rest of the year, according to court documents, a total of 37 checks amounting to approximately $72,000 were made out to the individuals for services rendered. One individual was reportedly unaware that any checks were ever even made out into their name.
“In order to cash these checks, on some occasions the defendent would forge the endorsement signature to the payee and sign her own name on the back of the checks, then cash them at local financial institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland in Bishop’s plea agreement. “On other occasions, at least two of the named payees would sign their names as endorsers, cash the checks, and then split the proceeds with the defendant.”
Bishop’s fraudulent billing scheme is laid out in black and white by federal prosecutors in their findings of Factual Basis–a document prepared for the courts by prosecutors and co-signed by the defendant to accompany her Feb. 1 plea of guilty.
“The defendant was the director of the Macon County [BOE] from approximately 2002 through Janary 2014,” reads the document. “In that capacity, she had the authority to initiate check requests in order to disburse funds from the BOE expense budget. Beginning in or about June 2013, and continuing through January 2014, the defendant submitted check request forms in order to cause checks to be issued by the government of Macon County payable to four persons, supposedly to pay them for their work on behalf of the BOE, and Macon County did, in fact, issue those checks.”
According to the document, throughout the span of an entire year, the $72,000 of public funds received by the recipients came from various sources including ‘federal grants, contracts, loans, guarantees, insurance, and other forms of federal assistance.’
Bishop was originally given until Jan. 27 to turn herself into authorities. After failing to do so, she was then briefly declared a fugitive by authorities until she turned herself in on the day of her Feb. 1 arraignment, wherein she plead guilty to one felony count of embezzling public funds.
Bishop was issued a $25,000 unsecured bond and was booked into custody as a federal inmate at approximately 4:45 p.m. Within about ten minutes, Bishop posted her own bail and was released from custody by dinner time.
However her freedom would be short-lived, after testing positive for a drug screening on Feb. 5, she was promptly detained once more at the Buncombe County Detention Center–this time without a bond set, wherein she will await her next hearing on March 21. Bishop is facing a maximum of ten years in prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
By Davin Eldridge