Alleged fraud suspect arrested
An Arkansan accused of defrauding more than $40,000 from the City of Bryant was arrested on Friday, April 13, according to the Bryant police.
Christopher Dwayne Barnes, 38, has not been formally charged by the Saline County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, however, in January, an arrest warrant was issued for theft of property on Barnes. He is also wanted in multiple areas throughout the state — Sebastian and Faulkner Counties for theft and in Pope County for nonsupport — for similar fraud crimes, authorities said.
Barnes was reportedly taken into custody at a restaurant in Fayetteville at 5:30 p.m. on April 13 by Bryant Cpl. Toney Green, Benton Police Department's Special Investigation Unit and Officer Aaron Parsons, Saline County Prosecutor Ken Casady's special Investigator.
As of press time, Barnes remains in the Saline County jail, but is expected to appear in Benton District Court today for a bond hearing. Barnes is expected to return to district court at 1 p.m. on May 22 for a plea hearing.
Barnes was contracted in 2010 by the City of Bryant for purchase, installation, and training on a new IP phone system connecting all city offices. Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs said that upon taking office in 2011, it was apparent the city had purchased a new phone system. However the phones were not operational, were only sitting on the desks throughout City Hall. Dabbs said the phones were found not installed.
The phones were eventually turned on but several pieces were not complete, that is when Dabbs ordered the IT audit to be performed by the Arkansas State Legislative Audit. Authorities said the audit confirmed that several things paid for in 2010 were never received or work completed. The case was then given to prosecutors for an investigation.
Parsons was able to determine the City had paid Barnes for equipment and work that had never been delivered or completed, exceeding $40,000.
The 15-page affidavit accompanying the warrant revealed the sequence of events leading to the warrant. The final page summarized the extent of the error for which Dabbs had requested an investigation following a legislative audit.
The case hinges around the following information as taken from the affidavit:
•Work actually completed and products actually delivered to the city of Bryant by Barnes, $34,095.38.
•Amount Barnes invoiced the city for work purportedly done and products purportedly delivered, $84,806.88,
•Amount actually paid to Barnes by the city of Bryant from invoices submitted, $83,293.44.
•Total amount paid to Barnes by the city for work that never was performed and products never received, $49,198.06.
The affidavit explains that former Finance Director Gary Hollis and former IT Director Jarion Stevens reviewed the bids from a financial and specifications perspective.
Hollis stated in the affidavit that he and Stevens chose Global Telecom as the equipment and setup provider based on the cost and scope of work and equipment promised. Hollis stated he made the recommendation to the council for Global Telecom and the council approved the contract.
According to the affidavit, Stevens told investigator Aaron Parsons that all checks to Global Telecom had to be authorized by Hollis.
In regard to the invoices, Stevens said, “We questioned them a little more as time went on.” Stevens also said that Global Telecom never provided any training as stated in the contract.
According to Parsons, “Hollis told me that after signing the agreement with Christopher Barnes and Global Telecom, the city needed additional computer cable work done at the Bishop Park Community Center that was being constructed. Global Telecom agreed to do the extra work for an additional $4,100.”
The affidavit notes that $4,469 was paid on May 26, 2010, for equipment and services at Bishop Park. Parsons stated that Hollis told him that “it was Mayor Mitchell’s decision to choose to go with Global Telecom to conduct the work at Bishop Park instead of going through a bid process. Hollis told me that Global Telecom was paid directly for each of these additional requests and they did not submit any written proposals.”
Dabbs told The Saline Courier today, "As mayor, it is my responsibility to oversee the day to day business of the City. Once the Council approves monies for any project I must insure that every dollar is spent in the tax payers best interest. Under my administration we will continue be diligent in this area and demand only the best service to our residents by the vendors we select. When possible we are using local vendors. Residents usually want what is best for their city and will give a better price and a better service. They also have a reputation to uphold and would never do what Mr. Barnes did to the City of Bryant."
Bryant Police Captain Phillip Newcomb added, "The city cannot afford to lose this kind of money and it not only hurts the citizens, but employees as well."