By Richard Rourk
The Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Erwin Police Department, recently concluded an investigation into allegations of malfeasance related to Unicoi County Schools.
Travis Lee Griffith, a former coach and teacher at Unicoi County Middle School, resigned from the school system on Oct. 9, 2020.
Griffith was originally charged with theft of over $2,500 in connection with an Erwin Police Department investigation that took place on Oct. 10, 2020.
Unicoi County Schools Director John English confirmed in October of 2020 that Griffith, who taught sixth grade, had indeed resigned.
At the time, English declined to provide more information because of the ongoing investigation.
“We have been working with the Erwin Police Department, as well the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office on an ongoing investigation,” English told The Erwin Record on Oct. 28, 2020. “I can confirm we received a resignation from Travis Griffith and he is no longer employed by Unicoi County Schools. That’s all I can say at this point.”
Unicoi County Assistant District Attorney Todd Hull confirmed on Monday, July 12, that his office was seeking a charge of theft over $10,000 following the school system and comptroller’s investigation.
“Once we got the reports back, it showed discrepancies of over $10,000,” Hull said. “We intend to seek to recover the full amount.”
On July 9, 2021, the Unicoi County Grand Jury indicted Griffith on one count of theft over $10,000.
According to the release from the Comptroller’s Office, Travis allegedly used a department fuel card on at least 169 occasions to purchase at least $10,160 worth of gasoline for his personal vehicle, between the period June 1, 2015 through Oct. 2, 2020.
In his role as an assistant baseball coach for UCMS, Griffith was authorized to purchase fuel for a school-owned vehicle using the department fuel card; however, the authorized vehicle used diesel fuel, not gasoline.
According to the Comptroller’s report, Griffith allegedly used the card to purchase gasoline for his personal vehicle in such locations as Orangeburg, South Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The release breaks down the yearly totals that Griffith allegedly ran up on the school system fuel card when making personal fuel purchases.
In 2016, the report indicates that he made 38 fuel purchases equalling $2,419.32.
In 2017, he made 30 purchases for a total of $1,743.71.
In 2018, he made 28 purchases for a total of $$1,829.54.
In 2019, he made 28 purchases for a total of $1,874.67.
In 2020, he made 28 purchases for a total of $1,475.34.
In 2021, he made 17 purchases for a total of $817.43.
Comptroller Jason Mumpower sent the findings on July 12 to Gov. Bill Lee, the State Attorney General, the District Attorney General of the 1st Judicial District, certain state legislators and other interested parties, as well as the Unicoi County Board of Education and Director of Schools John English.
The report indicated a deficiency in the school system’s safeguard for use of the fuel card.
“Unicoi County Schools officials did not adequately review monthly fuel invoices,” according to the report.
The school system did not require information such as purchase locations and type of fuel purchased before submitting payment.
The Comptroller noted that “properly reviewing monthly invoices reduces the risks of improper fuel purchases.”
In the report, the Comptroller noted that “school officials indicated they have corrected this deficiency.”
English addressed the deficiencies back in January before the State of Tennessee Audit Committee.
“Going forward we will not pay a bill unless the department head or principal has documentation that the services paid for are complete,” English said before the committee on Jan. 29. “Before we went on verbal documentation; that’s not right enough, so going forward we won’t move forward with payment until we have written documentation on purchases and services from our vendors.”
English was coping with a family medical emergency on July 12 when first contacted by The Erwin Record about the comptroller’s report and Griffith’s indictment.
English responded around midnight on July 12 by text message.
“Ultimately it’s all my responsibility,” English wrote in the text. “Anything that happens in Unicoi County Schools is my responsibility. It comes with the title and I’ll take responsibility. We regret deeply this happened and will work hard to make sure things like this do not happen in the future.”
Hull said that Griffith is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 9.