City employee charged with embezzlement

Lawton_A longtime Lawton city employee is facing charges of embezzlement. The city suspects him of stealing over a thousand dollars of fines paid by Lawton citizens. Fred Leatherwood has worked in Lawton's Municipal Court Clerk's office for over 7 years. And it hasn't been determined just how many of those years the city believes he has been stealing funds. It's been less than a month since the Court Clerk first noticed a problem.

The Municipal Court Clerk's office is where Lawton's citizens come to pay fines on traffic tickets or criminal offenses. Leatherwood has worked in the office collecting those fines for years. But after turning in some of his paperwork--the Municipal Court Clerk saw some problems. "We discovered that there are some irregularities in the municipal court clerks office. The court clerk brought that to my attention. And we did an internal investigation," said Lawton City Manager Larry Mitchell.

In that investigation, the Clerk noticed at least four instances where money was missing. These transactions were entered into the computer showing the customer had paid. And later the register showed that the tickets and fines were dismissed and the cases closed. Now, at least a thousand dollars are missing. All those transactions were signed by Fred Leatherwood. "Well, it's disappointing. It's disappointing in that you have a comfort level with your employees and you never like to see something like this happen but it's part of the environment, it's part of the culture, it's part of the business I guess. We're hoping the best will come out of this. And we have to do what we have to do."

Now Leatherwood is charged with felony embezzlement. And the Comanche County District Attorney's office tells 7NEWS they expect Leatherwood's attorney to bring him in to the Comanche County Detention Center. But even if he gets out on bail-- the City Manager says he won't be back in the Clerk's office anytime soon. "The employee is on administrative leave without pay and we are doing an audit to determine the extent to which we have a problem and the number of cases that we may uncover during the 2008 calendar year."

An internal auditor for the City of Lawton will go through all of Leatherwood's transactions this past year. Larry Mitchell also says they may go years back if needed.