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Former Mountain Park town clerk to stand trial for embezzlement

Mountain Park_Former Mountain Park Town Clerk Kimberly Morris will stand trial for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the city over the past three years, and in the process, not paying the town's utility bills or vendor payments.  Morris stood before a Kiowa County judge on Tuesday, with several Mountain Park citizens looking on.  The preliminary hearing was to determine whether there was enough evidence for a trial. 

Morris' attorney claims it was partially a computer error that caused the city to be short at least $77,000 in utility payments.  He says people were double-billed, and it wasn't corrected in the computer when customers paid what they owed.  However, the new audit indicates there were several months where no cash deposits were made, and since Morris' suspension, there has been an estimated $3,000 cash deposit made every month.

The small Kiowa County courthouse was packed with Mountain Park residents eager to hear what the judge would decide in the case against Kimberly Morris.  Recently-elected Mountain Park Mayor Leland Coulter says he's happy the judge found enough evidence to take Morris to trial.  "Hopefully we'll get something done fairly quickly, so we can get that bond money," he said.  He says that unless she is found guilty of the crime, the city can't be reimbursed $60,000 of bond money.  "We know we're broke as a town...we're broke," he said.  "The money went somewhere." 

The town wants to know where the money went, because the missing cash is causing trouble all over the small community where many retired persons live.  Mountain Park Café waitress Cheryl Love says it has been really hard on the older residents - especially since the town was forced to raise its utilities to help pay off the debts incurred by the missing money.  "Business has slowed down," she says.  "People can't afford to eat out as much - tip as much.  "It's just made it really hard on everyone.  Some of them [older residents] have had to go without their medication."

Former Mayor Janie Strutton spoke on behalf of the city on Tuesday.  She said she and the town should have kept a better eye on the finances, but ultimately, it was Morris' responsibility to ensure the money was deposited, and that the bills were paid.  "Whoever is guilty of this has hurt a lot of innocent people that did not deserve to be hurt," she said.

The trial is set to begin June 4, at 9 a.m., at the Kiowa County Courthouse in Hobart.  District Judge Darby will be trying the case.

You can count on 7News to continue coverage of this case.

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