Former city planner under investigation

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

A well-respected community figure and member of the Chiefland Planning Commission for almost 25 years is under investigation by the State Attorney's Office in connection with the disappearance of an estimated $120,000 from a church building fund.

Mary Marshall, 73, who resigned in August from the city planning board and was honored for her service by the Chiefland City Commission in September is the only individual being investigated, said Assistant State Attorney Glenn Bryan.

The Chiefland Police Department forwarded a sworn complaint charging Mary Marshall with one count of grand theft to the State Attorney's Office. No attempt has been made to arrest Marshall on the felony.

Bryan says no formal charges have been filed, but, if his investigation results in charges a warrant for an arrest will be issued.

Although the church learned of the missing money in July and the police department questioned Marshall in late August, the investigation is taking longer than expected.

"I thought it would go to early 2008," Chiefland Police Lt. Al Graves said. "That was the tip of the iceberg."

Graves also mentioned that the church has had several pastors in the past 10 years.

Marshall had no comment when contacted by the Chiefland Citizen, but when interviewed by a police officer in August she admitted taking the money. According to the police report Marshall said she "dipped a little bit here and dipped a little bit there" and she had no idea of the total amount taken.

And she is upset with the church's pastor "because 'Christians shouldn't do things like this' meaning criminal prosecution," according to the report.

Pastor Lewis W. King of Mount Erie Baptist Church contacted the Chiefland Police Department on July 17, one day after he discovered that most of the church's bank account at Capital City Bank in Chiefland was depleted.

The money represented the dream and contributions of the church's 25 members and other deceased members who left funds to the church over 10 years for a new building.

King said he and Deacon John Marshall, husband of Mary Marshall, went to the bank to withdraw funds to pay contractors' bills.

"My reaction? It was unbelief," King said. "I thought that the banking personnel had made some mistake. I thought they had entered the wrong account number or something."

He said he was disappointed, then angry. "Finally I went to the point of thinking that this couldn't be happening."

But once he got over his initial shock, King said he had a congregation to minister.

"When I told them what happened it was a very somber meeting. There was some anger, some to the point that that some walked out of the meeting in tears," King said.

King said church members had already prepared the current 85-year-old building for demolition, made arrangements to meet temporarily in another church, and ordered a new steel building from Georgia.

They now are considering doing renovations. And they have started a building fund at Drummond Bank. Donations are being sought, King said.

According to a police department report, only two church members were to have access to the account, church Deacon John Marshall and church Treasurer Genieve Brown. Rosa Bowers wrote the checks.

"The only other individual that may have had access to the information necessary to enter the two accounts was Ms. Mary Marshall," the report said.

According to the report, Bowers said "Ms. Marshall would frequently provide instructions for Ms. Bowers to issue checks from the church in order to pay certain debts. Ms. Bowers would issue the checks in good faith and took Ms. Marshall's statements to be truthful."

The investigator said, "It appears that Ms. Marshall is viewed by many in the Chiefland community as a mentor and role model and that her word is taken at face value for being truthful,"

"This blind trust and faith in Ms. Marshall only helped her facilitate this theft as none of the church members questioned her honesty, integrity and truthfulness at the time," the report said.

In the meantime, King was trying to get copies of the bank records to find out what happened to the money.

The police report said, "It was Ms. Marshall's criminal intent to deprive the church of permanent use of the funds."