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State Police probe missing money at agency

by Byron Tate | April 27, 2023 at 2:52 a.m.
An investigation is underway into an allegation of missing money at the Urban Renewal Agency, according to officials. Here, in this photo taken in 2021, Urban Renewal crews work to take down a dilapidated building. (Pine Bluff Commercial file photo/I.C. Murrell)

The Arkansas State Police are investigating the possibility of missing money at the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency, according to Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter.

Hunter said he could not comment on the particulars of the case, including how much money is reportedly missing, but said he and the investigator at the State Police are in correspondence about the case on a weekly basis.

"It's not finalized at this point," Hunter said, "although it's close to being completed. Once it is, we will determine what the findings are and who should be charged."

The Urban Renewal Agency is an arm of Go Forward Pine Bluff and is tasked with developing specific areas of the city, including the downtown area, as well as getting rid of dilapidated houses and other structures. The agency is funded through the five-eighths-cent Go Forward sales tax, which is up for a renewal vote on May 9.

The current director of Urban Renewal, Chandra Griffin, said only that there was an ongoing investigation. The same was true for Jimmy Dill, chairman of the Urban Renewal board, who said he knew there was an investigation being conducted but didn't know where it stood or who was doing the investigation.

"We're not in that loop," he said. "There's an ongoing investigation. That's all I can say."

Ivan Whitfield, former member of the Pine Bluff City Council, said a State Police investigator contacted him about two months ago and asked about Urban Renewal, noting Whitfield's negative comments about the agency while Whitfield was on the council. The investigator also asked about the Urban Renewal board members.

"But his main purpose on calling was to ask about the possible misuse of funds," Whitfield said. "I told him I couldn't speak to that because I don't have any knowledge of it. He didn't say how much money was missing but did say there was some maneuvering of money."

Hunter said his office had received a portion of the investigative file from the State Police, adding that he hoped to have the rest of the file shortly.

Whitfield said he had some concern that the investigation was moving slowly so as not to create negative publicity for Go Forward at a time when voters will soon be going to the polls to vote on two Go Forward-sponsored taxes.

Asked to comment, Hunter said nothing could be further from the truth.

"If that's what Mr. Whitfield said, I can assure you that nothing is being sat on as a favor to Go Forward or anyone else," Hunter said. "This is a normal investigative process."

There have been two directors of Urban Renewal. The first one was Maurice Taggart, who resigned in September 2021 to pursue a career as a lawyer. Griffin had been his assistant and was quickly made interim director of the agency. In March 2022, the board removed the "interim" tag.

Print Headline: Police probe money at agency


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