RIVER BEND — Delane Jackson, the former town manager/administrator for Bladenboro, recently broke his silence concerning allegations that he is guilty of fraud while employed by the Bladen County town.
Jackson, who has served as the town manager for River Bend since September 2014, told the Sun-Journal of New Bern he is confident the truth will come out to exonerate him, and he is “looking forward to presenting his side of the story in court.”
“I hope the public will realize that they do not know all of the facts surrounding this issue and will therefore withhold judgment until the legal process has been allowed to run its course,” he wrote in a statement to the Sun-Journal last week. “From the beginning, I have maintained my innocence in the matter and I continue to do so. It is obviously a very difficult situation for my family and me but we will face it together.”
The allegations came to a head after an extensive investigation by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation on the heels of being alerted by Bladenboro Mayor Rufus Duckworth about Jackson’s involvement with a company called Cygnus Inc. while he was town manager between 2005 and 2013. Cygnus, which documents show was owned by Jackson was awarded a contract in 2005 for wastewater treatment services.
Over the following eight years, the town paid Cygnus about $450,000, including $4,700 per month for the operation of wells and spray irrigation.
Those numbers, as well as the fact that many town employees claim they never saw a Cygnus vehicle or employee n town, didn’t sit well with Duckworth, who was first elected mayor in 2013 and led to the forced resignation of Jackson and the closing of Cygnus.
Duckworth said late last year he found start-up documents for the company on file with the Secretary of State listing Jackson as company president. Other documents showed officers for the company had close ties to Jackson: his aunt, Mary Estelle Wiggins, is listed as the company secretary; and a former town clerk under Jackson, Lisa Kelly Porter, is listed as a company officer.
Jackson was indicted by a Bladen County Grand Jury earlier this month with one count of obtaining property by false pretenses in excess of $100,000 — a Class C felony.
Despite the charge, the Sun-Journal has reported that Jackson’s job with River Bend is safe — for now.
“It will be up to the town council how they want to proceed,” Mayor John Kirkland told the Sun-Journal. “He (Jackson) has been the town manager for almost fours year and he has done an outstanding job for the town.”
River Bend Council member Bill Wanamaker said he was “very sorry to hear the news” of the indictment against Jackson.
“We will have to consult with the town council attorney on the matter,” Wanamaker told the Sun-Journal. “I would emphasize that Mr. Jackson has not been convicted so we must reserve judgment. Everyone is entitled to due process in America and we have to let the justice system take its course.”
In an email statement to the Sun Journal, Jackson wrote that, during his tenure in Bladenboro, he was “unaware of any elected official expressing any concerns with the work that was provided or the costs.”
Jackson wrote that once he learned of the SBI investigation, he submitted “a large amount” of documentation to the district attorney in hopes of answering any questions they had. According to Jackson, he also informed the Town Council in River Bend about the investigation.
Jackson wrote that it was his understanding that none of the documents he provided the district attorney were shared with the grand jury Monday.
“One of the many documents that was provided was an affidavit from the previous Bladenboro mayor. In it, he stated that I had notified the entire town council of a family connection that I had with a prospective bidder and I recused myself from involvement in the award process,” Jackson claimed.
According to Jackson, the Cygnus contract was awarded by a unanimous action of the Bladenboro Town Council through a sealed bid process during a public meeting.
“The formal contract was awarded to the low bidder and signed by the mayor and town clerk,” Jackson wrote. “During all of their years of (Cygnus’s) service, I am not aware of any complaints or violations of any rules. The town council provided funding to continue the contract through the annual budget process. Each year, the town’s records were audited. Since the council continued funding, I can only assume they were satisfied with the services being provided.”
Jackson is being represented in the case by Whiteville attorney Butch Pope.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Sun-Journal of New Bern contributed to this story.