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NC5 Investigates: Davidson County Clerk

DA Requests TBI Investigation Of County Clerk's Office

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Davidson County Clerk John Arriola faces a criminal investigation, as well as outrage from some citizens.

District Attorney General Torry Johnson announced Friday afternoon that he asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to follow up on questions first raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

That investigation raised questions about cash that Arriola pocketed for performing weddings on taxpayer time, questionable spending by Arriola's office, as well as his campaign treasurer who was put on the Metro payroll.

"I think that the allegations, the stories, the responses and so forth would indicate that again the taxpayers are deserving of an answer -- and I think this is the best way to get to the bottom of it," Johnson told reporters during a news conference to discuss the resignation of Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence.

Also on Thursday, some upset protestors took to the streets to call for Arriola's arrest. Video, captured by The Tennessean, shows a couple of protestors who said they were upset about the money that couples had to pay for those wedding ceremonies.

One protestor called it "extortion."

While many people were upset about those wedding fees -- what Arriola called "gratuities" -- Johnson said he called in the TBI and state auditors following NewsChannel 5's questions about people that the county clerk put on the Metro payroll.

In fact, our investigation has now discovered that one of them may have a lot more to gain than anyone knew.

"Certainly the issues about an employee, or employees, that maybe are paid for little or no work, I think that would get your attention first," the DA explained.

Johnson says investigators will want to know more about John Arriola's campaign manager, Leighton Bush.

As our NewsChannel 5 investigation first revealed, ever since Arriola was elected county clerk five years ago, Bush has been drawing a regular paycheck -- even though there's little evidence of the hours he's worked. Arriola insisted that Bush had plenty to do, although he acknowledged that he was "wrong" not to make him keep track of the hours he worked.

"There's some assertion that individual was doing things the office needed, and maybe that's true," Johnson said. "Maybe there's a way to establish that. I think that's what we'll have to get to the bottom of."

But when confronted by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Bush could not recall what he had done lately to earn his Metro paycheck.

Now, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned that not only has Bush been getting full Metro medical insurance, but in about six weeks he'll qualify for a Metro retirement.

That would give him a small $82 monthly income.

More importantly, it would also let him receive Metro retirees' health benefits, where the city would pay 75 percent of his medical premiums.

Sources told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Bush has had some serious medical problems, meaning that he would have benefited from being on the Metro payroll.

"There certainly are things that could be, that are, that I think would be potentially criminal," Johnson said, referring to the overall investigation.

The DA said he also has questions about the weddings that Arriola performed while on taxpayer time, pocketing the cash collected from couples -- calling it "gratuity."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates estimated that, in the past 12 months, that could have allowed him to pocket more than $33,000.

"Given the apparent numbers and the amount of money involved, while we're at that, that's another matter that ought to be looked into and audited," Johnson said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates reached out to John Arriola for comment, but received no response.

Johnson said it may turn out that there has been no criminal wrongdoing, just a management problem.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

Related Stories:

County Clerk: 'I Call It A Gratuity'
Taxpayer-Funded PR Plan Aimed To Boost Arriola Image
Arriola Gives $33,000 Tahoe Bill To Taxpayers
Arriola Puts Campaign Treasurer On Metro Payroll

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