$50K 'missing' from county account

Jeremy Nash News-Herald.net

The Loudon County 911 board of directors is trying to retrieve $50,000 after its certificate of deposit at the BB&T Tellico Village branch was zeroed out and sent to the state due to supposed inactivity.

Local officials became aware of the bank’s action earlier this month.

Sheriff Tim Guider, who serves as chairman of the 911 board, said the money was placed in reserve. Funds were put in a CD at least three or four years ago, he said.
“I just don’t see how something like this could happen,” Loudon Police Chief James “Bear” Webb, who is vice chairman of the 911 board, said. “I could understand if you had like some older folks that had died off or something that didn’t have any heirs, then that would be some unclaimed funds that would need to go to the state of Tennessee.
“But that’s not what we’re talking about,” he added. “We’re talking about a set of circumstances of a municipality that has some well-known people in the community that are not that hard to get in contact with.”
Webb said he visited BB&T upon request earlier this year to sign paperwork, but bank officials did not consider what he did activity on the account. He said he would have made a deposit or withdrew funds if asked to keep the account active.
“(The branch manager’s) only excuse was, ‘Well, the only person that was at the bank at the time was a part-time teller and she really didn’t know what all needed to be done’,” Webb said. “And I said, ‘Well that’s not our fault. That’s a mistake on your end.’ ... When you’re doing banking business with the bank you just trust that they know what they need and when they prompt you to tell you this is what they need then you’re there to do whatever to maintain your account.”
Webb said after the current BB&T manager spoke with the former manager, the story was that “every possible attempt was made to notify” Guider and Webb, the two names listed on the account.
“I mean, you can Google James Webb Loudon County, Tenn., and it’ll bring up the Loudon police department website with a link that’s got an email,” Webb said. “You send me an email, it comes to my phone and I get the email on my phone. In this day and age of modern communication somebody couldn’t get in contact with the chief of police for the city of Loudon? I just think that’s ridiculous to fall back on that. ... You put your money in the bank and you think it’s going to sit there and it’ll be there when you need it or whatever.”
David White, vice president of corporate communications for BB&T, said an account is deemed inactive in Tennessee if untouched for five years.
“Inactivity means there was no deposit, no withdrawal, no anything,” White said. “In the state of Tennessee, so after five years if there’s no activity on an account then it goes into what we call escheat. At that point, at BB&T, we then reach out. When we get a list of escheat clients then we reach out to that client by telephone and we try on multiple occasions to try and reach the client. If we get a voicemail we can’t be specific. ... We are limited — we can only call the name or names that are on the signature card on the account. So we can’t go really willy-nilly all over the place.
“So we can contact the names or name that is on the signature card and we make several, multiple attempts at that,” White added. “Then if that is unsuccessful then by federal law we send a letter to the last address we had for that account. Then if we hear nothing back approximately 90 days after that letter goes out then is we turn it over to the state. In the meantime we’re trying to make multiple calls to try and contact the client.”
White said proper protocol was followed “exactly” in this instance.
E-911 Director Jennifer Estes said an application has been submitted to the Tennessee Department of Treasury, where the funds are currently located.
“BB&T at first told us that it was their error and that they would replace the money into our account and then they would go through the process to get it returned from the state,” Estes said. “Then they reversed that and said that it was up to us to do the application process to get the money put back into our account. So basically you have to file a claim form with the Department of Treasury and show proof of ownership for the funds and then they reimburse you, or send that amount back to you.”
Turnaround time is estimated at 12 weeks due to a backlog of claims, Estes said.
“Obviously, it’s money that we had set aside so that we would be able to make future equipment repairs and replacement when things come up, so we have to have that money to be able to do those things, and then our audit will be coming up soon so we would not want to get any audit findings based on an error that a bank made,” Estes said. “The sooner the better would be (good) for everyone.”
Estes said the 911 board hasn’t considered what to do with the money once returned locally.
“It is just a matter of going through the motions,” Guider said of getting back the funds. “It was initially quite a shock there at first. ... I think everything is going to be all right. It’s just some kind of a mistake.”