A northern Missouri town’s former clerk, who is facing charges in a 2019 shootout with law enforcement, embezzled more than $300,000 from the city’s taxpayers, according to a newly released state audit.
Tracey Ray, 48, was the clerk of the city of Center for fifteen years, a term that ended with a dramatic flourish in July 2019. The month before, a whistleblower had contacted state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office to report that the city hadn’t filed its annual audit reports for years.
The town has a population of about 500 people and is about sixteen miles southwest of Hannibal in Ralls County.
Center’s mayor also contacted Galloway’s office. He’d been tipped off to the missing audits — and the resulting state fine — by the clerk of Ralls County while Ray was on vacation, the state audit says. Alarmed, he contacted Ray who promised to clear it up when she returned for work on July 1, 2019, but she never showed up that day.
Details from law enforcement and news reports are sparse, but the next day, July 2, Ray allegedly exchanged gunfire with the Ralls County sheriff and a deputy, wounding both men. She was shot three times during the gun battle and was transported to the hospital.
On July 3, 2019, the city Board of Aldermen voted to fire Ray. She was married to the town’s police chief, who was placed on administrative leave, the Salt River Journal reported. Before the month was out, he had resigned. Court records show the couple has since divorced.
Ray survived the shooting, and the state attorney general took over the case, filing charges in November 2019 of first-degree assault and armed criminal action. That case is still pending.
As the shooting case progressed, the state auditors continued their probe, gathering credit card bills and other financial account information through subpoenas. Focusing on the four years between 2015 and Ray’s firing, they found dozens of sketchy purchases, according to the audit report.
There were hotel bills — including the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Radisson in Branson and Residence Inn in Breckenridge, Colorado — as well as big retail bills. She spent more than $32,000 on Amazon, nearly $25,000 at Walmart and more than $15,000 at Lowe’s, according to auditors.
Taxpayers covered $2,645 in payments to a hair salon and $9,621 to a variety of restaurants, the investigation found. She is accused of spending $378 on tickets to the Country Thunder Music Festival.
In the audit, Galloway criticized city leaders for not paying closer attention as Ray spent Center’s money on her own bills, which also included health insurance, home improvement projects and groceries.
“This audit details a serious breach of public trust and exposes years of dishonesty at the expense of taxpayers,” Galloway said in a news release. “The abuses by the former clerk, which include using taxpayers’ dollars to pay for concert tickets and vacations in Branson, Colorado and Las Vegas, are just egregious. The city must work to rebuild citizens’ trust by addressing the lack of oversight that allowed this to activity to occur and carry on for years.”
Ray faces no criminal charges for the alleged embezzling. However, Galloway says auditors have shared their findings with the FBI.
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