ELIZABETHTOWN — Delane Jackson, the former town manager/administrator for the town of Bladenboro, will face a charge of obtaining property by false pretenses in excess of $100,000 — a Class C felony.
On Monday, a Bladen County Grand Jury handed down the indictment against Jackson following a lengthy investigation by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
Jackson served as the town’s manager/administrator from 1998 to 2013, when he was forced to resign. During a majority of that time — from 2005 to 2013 — he was listed as the owner of a company known as Cygnus, Inc., which was awarded a contract for wastewater treatment services to the town in its first year.
For the next eight years, invoices show the town paid Cygnus nearly $500,000 — including $4,700 monthly for the operation of wells and spray irrigation.
But in 2013, with the election and swearing in of Rufus Duckworth as mayor of Bladenboro, all work being done by Cygnus ceased.
“It was such a whirlwind when I went in — I was new, we had new commissioners, we were trying to get a new fire department, a park and a farmer’smarket — and I didn’t have time to get started on this right away,” Duckworth said recently. “But after doing some digging, I could see there was something fishy.
“And I don’t know of anyone around town who ever saw a Cygnus employee or vehicle,” he added.
Also in 2013, Jackson was asked to resign as town administrator, and he gave his resignation with the promise of a severance package that amounted to just over $50,000.
“That really bothered me,” Duckworth said. “Here we have someone who has, at the very least, mismanaged a lot of money for this town, and (the previous administration) gives him another $50,000.”
Jackson has been employed by the town of River Bend, just outside New Bern, as its town manager since September 2014.
Duckworth, who has been heavily involved with the investigation by the SBI, supplying documents and researching records, said Monday he’s relieved the truth is coming out.
“I don’t know if other charges are pending (but) this should answer questions that a lot of people have had,” he said, “and it shows that the current board will do the right thing. Now we can move forward and see if we can recover any of the town’s money.”
Duckworth said he originally brought his concerns to Glenn Emory with the Bladen County District Attorney’s Office, but was referred to State Auditor Beth Wood — who determined that what Duckworth had concerns about was more of a criminal case.
Since then, Duckworth said hours and hours of digging through the Internet have turned up numerous questionable areas about Cygnus — including the fact that Jackson is listed as the company’s president; his aunt, Mary Estelle Wiggins, is listed as the company secretary; and a former town clerk under Jackson, Lisa Kelly Porter, was listed as a company officer.
Also of concern to Duckworth is the fact that the home office for Cygnus was listed in Wilmington, then Ocean Isle Beach and then Lumberton over a nine-year period.
In November, Duckworth said if there is an area where he sees the town has some culpability, it’s with the fact that the administration at the time allowed Jackson to OK all invoices and sign all checks during the day-to-day operations.
“This is where you have a problem … when you have a manager who has free reign with no checks or balances,” Duckworth said. “And we had a town board at the time that wouldn’t do it’s job.
“It’s really very simple — what you don’t condemn, you condone,” he added.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.