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No Charges Filed After State Audit Found Misspending By Clarksville Food Program

Posted: 10:02 PM, Jul 20, 2017
Updated: 2017-07-20 23:58:20-04
A state audit last year found she misspent your tax dollars, taking money that was supposed to be feeding hungry children, but no one seems to be holding her responsible.
 
Patsy Simpson looks like someone's grandmother. But some say the 80-year old Clarksville woman belongs in jail. 
 The way Mark Cunningham of the Beacon Center of Tennessee sees it, "Essentially she was using the government money as her own personal cash cow."
 
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Simpson, "Did you misspend money?"
 
"No," she replied, "I didn't."
 
For many years, Simpson ran the Cherry Tree Food Program out of her home on Trenton Road, a tax-payer funded program that provided meals to low income children in day care.
 
And as we first reported last year, a state audit found more than $181,000 in unauthorized or questionable spending, with much of that money going directly to Simpson or for her benefit. There were personal loans and bonuses, hotel rooms, air travel, and rental cars.
 
And according to the audit, taxpayer money also bought furniture for Simpson's house, a new water heater, replacement windows, vinyl siding, tile floors, kitchen and bathroom sinks, even lawn care along with a gazebo in her backyard and the wrought iron gate around it.
 
"So this money which was given by the government to feed kids who are in need was being taken and used for a gazebo. I mean just think about that!" the Beacon Center's Mark Cunningham exclaimed.  
    Last year after the state's audit was released, the watchdog group included Cherry Tree in its annual Pork Report. They applauded DHS for cutting ties with the program. But Cunningham was shocked to learn little more has been done.
 
"If you do something like this, you do need to pay the money back. That's step number one, but you also need to be punished for it in some way because you're not going to deter people from committing crimes like this if you're not punishing them," he explained.
 
Like LaShane Hayes who was caught stealing more than a million dollars from a similar food program in LaVergne. She was sent to prison and ordered to pay back what she took.
 
But in Cherry Tree's case, nearly a year and a half later, the Montgomery County District Attorney has not charged anyone. The DA declined to explain why.
 
"Do you think you should face charges?" we asked Simpson.
 
"No," she replied.    
 
Then we asked, "Did you take money?"
 
Again, she said, "No. I didn't."
 
But according to state records, Simpson was caught transferring money from Cherry Tree's accounts "to her personal checking account." When the group's finance director confronted her, Simpson admitted to it, but asked her not to reveal it to anyone else.
 
Cherry Tree's Board of Directors then fired Simpson for misappropriating nearly $14,000.
 
And after the comptroller's report came out, the board said they hoped those who had "committed theft and fraud" would be held "responsible" and forced "to make restitution to taxpayers."
 
NewsChanne 5 Investigates said to Simpson, "Some people say you should be held responsible for all of this money?"
 
"Who says that?" she asked. 
     
"People do," we responded."
     
"Well, I'm not worried about people. I'm worried about what's right and what happened," Simpson explained.     
     
"And what happened?" we asked.
     
"Well, I cannot make no comment about this," she replied. 
     
"Why?"
     
"I've been informed not to," Simpson told us.
      
When Simpson was executive director, Cherry Tree overcharged the state more than half a million dollars over a two year period. The program repaid some of it, but nearly a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money was never paid back. 
       
Simpson is now selling her house, including that taxpayer funded gazebo. The asking price: $400,000. As far as we can tell though, there are no efforts right now to recoup any money from the sale. 
       
"This is one of the worst examples that we've seen in terms of how the government has actually responded to an issue of fraud. And ultimately, its our job as taxpayers to make sure that people who do things like this are held accountable," Cunningham with the Beacon Center stated.
       
When Cherry Tree stopped paying back what it owed, DHS turned the case over to the Attorney General's Office. But they say because Cherry Tree is no longer in business, they consider that quarter of a million dollars uncollectible.