Former town manager under SBI investigation

BLADENBORO, NC (WECT) - The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating a former town manager for Bladenboro.

Delane Jackson was forced to resign in 2013, and now the town mayor is raising questions about what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars the town spent when Jackson was in charge.

According to papers filed with the Secretary of State, Jackson started a company called Cygnus Inc. in January 2005 while he was the town manager of Bladenboro. The same year, that company won a contract to provide wastewater treatment services for the town.

Cygnus was paid $450,000 in the years that followed, but town leaders we spoke to say they never saw a single employee doing any actual work for the company, or even a Cygnus work truck.

The company abruptly quit the day the new mayor, Rufus Duckworth, was sworn into office in 2013. Bladenboro was able to find another company to provide wastewater treatment services the next day at a fraction of the cost it had been paying Cygnus.

Cygnus received $4,700 a month for "operation of spray irrigation" and "operation of wells" according to invoices to the town. The new company that took over after Cygnus did the job for $1,000 a month, and a town employee has since been trained to do the job in house, saving town residents even more.

The mayor said he proceeded to make several other discoveries about Cygnus. He found start-up documents for the company on file with the Secretary of State, with Delane Jackson's signature, listing himself as company president.

Other documents showed officers for the company had close ties to Jackson, including Lisa Kelly Porter, who Duckworth says was a town clerk under Jackson. We're told that Porter was divorced several years before these papers were filed, and had at that point changed her name to Lisa Renee Kelly, but still used her married name on the paperwork for Cygnus.

Documents also show Mary Estelle Wiggins served as secretary for Cygnus. Duckworth says she is Jackson's aunt.

The physical address for Cygnus Inc. changed from Wilmington to Ocean Isle Beach to Lumberton in the nine years it did business with the town of Bladenboro. According to tax records, Jackson owned the residence in Ocean Isle Beach that was once listed as the street address for the company.
These were among the details Duckworth says he shared with the SBI when he alerted them to his concerns in 2014.

Town leaders we spoke to say they were unaware that Jackson was connected to the Cygnus company until after his employment with the town ended. They say Jackson approved all invoices and signed all checks for the town during his time as town manager.

Duckworth says they have made big changes in the years since Jackson's departure, but he'd like the town to recover any money that was improperly paid to Cygnus if investigators determine the transactions were illegal.

"Me and that staff that's at town hall now, we watch every single penny. We know where it's coming from, where it's going out," Duckworth said. "We've changed the way checks are written. We don' longer allow one person to write the check for the town. I have to sign every check, and a commissioner has to sign every check so that everything is on the up and up. This is the taxpayers', the citizens' money, and we treat it that way."

Duckworth says he's frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation, which has been going on for about three years now. He says District Attorney Jon David promised him it would be resolved well over a year ago, but says David has since stopped returning his calls.

SBI Deputy Director Gregory Tart told WECT, "I will confirm that there is an ongoing investigation and that Jackson is a subject of the investigation. As far as the details of what occurred, I don't want to release any information regarding that until the DA has made a decision as to if any charges are warranted."

Tart explained that the DA's office had already been given the investigative report, but he requested that more work be done on the case. Tart said that additional work had been done, and "we are in the process of turning over the additional reports."

Jon David said he could not comment.

Duckworth, who is up for re-election next month, says the public deserves to know what is going on with their money.

"It's just unbelievable that we've got $450,000 that the town has spent unnecessarily," Duckworth said. "I mean, we are a rural town. We've got a lot of elderly, retired people. We've got a lot of people that's trying to raise families, and you know, this affected everybody in this town. The bills were higher than they should have been because of this amount of money leaving."

We were able to reach Jackson by email Monday. He is now working as a town manager somewhere else in North Carolina. He referred us to his attorney, Butch Pope, who said Jackson was never contacted about this investigation, but they are happy to cooperate if that should happen in the future.

Pope is also working to get answers to additional questions we had in this case.

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