Former Garland County sheriff's investigator pleads guilty to stealing cash, gets probation

Posted: April 24, 2018 at 12:22 p.m.

A former Garland County sheriff's investigator pleaded guilty Monday to stealing money from the Arkansas Narcotics Officers Association while serving as its treasurer and was sentenced to two years' probation, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record reported on Tuesday.

Michael Vernon Wright, 48, who resigned from the sheriff's department on July 1, 2017, with the rank of sergeant, was arrested last month and initially charged with theft of property more than $5,000. He pleaded guilty in Garland County Circuit Court to an amended charge of theft of property more than $1,000.

Wright, who had no prior criminal history, also must pay $11,380 in restitution to the association.

Wright, who lists a Pearcy address, was employed with the sheriff's department for 20 years, Garland County Sheriff Mike McCormick said shortly after his arrest.

Wright was arrested by Arkansas State Police after a warrant was issued March 7.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Wade Baxter of the Narcotics Officers Association told investigators that he and others in the group began asking Wright about the association's finances after a 2017 conference. Wright was unable to provide them with a precise ending balance but told them it would be "somewhere close to $5,000."

Baxter said this estimate "did not sound right" due to deposits that needed to be made and additional association dues that could be coming in.

Baxter said Wright later called him and "began crying, stating he was sorry," the affidavit said. Wright reportedly told him he was having financial trouble and had written checks to himself out of the association's account. He told Baxter "this had been going on for a couple of years," authorities wrote.

An audit was completed by the Division of Legislative Audit and Auditor Jimmy Locke, who focused on the revenues for January 2013 through July 2017, determined there was a shortage of $8,147.95 during the period.

Locke also reported there was $25,084.68 worth of cash disbursements and reimbursements to Wright from the ANOA bank account that he determined to be "suspicious."

Click here to read the full story in the Sentinel-Record.