County Clerk's Renters Tied to Metro Jobs, Contract
Home on McCall Street
David Currey (second from left), John Arriola and Jonathan Saad
By Phil Williams Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Authorities said they may be close to wrapping up a criminal investigation of John Arriola.
That investigation was launched after NewsChannel 5 Investigates raised questions about how the Davidson County Clerk pocketed thousands of dollars cash for weddings he performed on taxpayer time and how he put his campaign treasurer on the Metro payroll.
But now our investigation has uncovered exclusive new details about how Arriola may have mixed his own business with the public's business.
In fact, a modest house in South Nashville may hold some clues for investigators about how John Arriola spent your money. Located on McCall Street, it's owned by the county clerk himself.
And it's been home to at least four people that Arriola put on the Metro payroll.
Among them: 26-year-old Garrett Gifford. A former intern in Arriola's campaign, Gifford has been listed as a fulltime county clerk employee for more than two years -- even as he was completing his degree at Middle Tennessee State University.
In fact, NewsChannel 5 Investigates found Gifford at home during a week when the county clerk's office shows he got paid for a full 40-hour week.
"Have you worked every hour for which you got paid? That's a real simple question," we asked Gifford when we caught up with home one day after work.
"I have no comment for you, sir," he replied.
But building security records show that, when he did swipe into the clerk's office, it was usually a Monday, Wednesday or Friday.
Take, for example, the two-week pay period ending March 4th. Gifford's swipe card was used just five days, but he got paid for working 10 days.
"How do you explain days that you've gotten paid that you haven't even swiped into the building?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, as Gifford continued to ignore the questions.
Then, there's the pay period ending April 1st. Gifford's swipe card was used just three days, but again he got paid for 10 days work.
"Do you think taxpayers have a right to know whether you've worked the hours that you've gotten paid for?" we asked again.
Gifford turned to the camera and waved, "Hi, mom."
Documents show Arriola told his staff to dock Gifford's pay for some of his absences. But then, just a few weeks later, he was also telling them to give his renter what he called "a personal day" where he did not have to show up for work.
Before Gifford, another former Arriola employee -- Cody Duke -- also lived in the house while he was on the county clerk's payroll.
"It sounds like he's running a favor factory down there," said taxpayer watchdog Ben Cunningham, head of the Tennessee Tax Revolt.
Cunningham said he doesn't know how Arriola thinks he can be both boss and landlord.
"He's taking taxpayer money and paying somebody who then pays him rent. That sets up all kinds of conflicts of interest and that's not what you want to see in a government official," Cunningham said.
In fact, our investigation discovered that another Arriola friend -- David Currey -- also listed that house as his address when he was going through a divorce back in 2008.
That's when the county clerk first put him briefly on the Metro payroll, then gave his company a no-bid contract.
"David was just a project-by-project person," Arriola said when we first sat down with him back in June.
Still, he refused to admit that Currey, a historian and filmmaker, was a friend.
Currey's company, Encore Interpretive Design, billed Metro for consulting on emissions testing. Cost to taxpayers: $48,000.
"It looks like you are doing a favor for a friend here," we asked Arriola.
The county clerk replied, "He's been very helpful with the emissions and I'm satisfied with the advice that he's given me."
We persisted, "You're not denying that you're doing a favor for a friend."
"I wouldn't call him a friend," Arriola answered.
One of Arriola's top aides, Jonathan Saad, also once listed the house on McCall as his address, although it appears that Saad moved out of that house before Arriola hired him.
Documents show Saad was working for the Metro Arts Commission when he got into trouble for running a filmmaking business on Metro time. That's when Arriola hired him.
Among his partners in that business: Currey and Arriola.
"It's just a web of conflicts of interest and it shouldn't exist," Cunningham said.
The taxpayer watchdog said said it shows how it's tough for a public official's interests and the public's interest to live under the same roof.
While it's not illegal for a public official to rent to his employees, state law does require them to list their sources of income.
We checked Arriola's disclosures, and it does not list rental income at all.
But, after NewsChannel 5 Investigates contacted Arriola on Wednesday, the county clerk amended his reports to reflect that income.
As for the criminal investigation, sources say that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has wrapped up its initial set of interviews in the Arriola case.
Now, the DA is waiting on state auditors to wrap their part of the investigation.
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