by Michael Howell
Three felony theft charges and accompanying misdemeanor charges of official misconduct were filed on July 15 in Ravalli County District Court against former Stevensville mayor, Brandon Dewey. According to the filing documents, the allegations were filed following an investigation conducted by Stevensville Police Chief Mac Sosa at the request of the new administration which “revealed that Defendant (Brandon Dewey) used Town Funds to pay for his personal legal fees by attempting to bypass the Town’s usual claims process.”
It is claimed in the charging documents that Dewey used $12,020.20 from the town’s coffers to pay personal legal fees for the lawsuit he filed in a failed attempt to stop the recall petition against him in March 2020 from being placed on the ballot. His complaint was dismissed by the court.
It states in the filing documents that in December of 2020, the town’s Finance Officer at the time, Robert Underwood, noticed that a town check for $12,020.20 had been written out to a Missoula law firm and inquired about it.
“Mr. Underwood reported that when he asked the deputy town clerk about the source of the claim, he was immediately directed to Defendant. Mr. Underwood further reported that Defendant told Mr. Underwood that the claim was for Defendant’s lawyer fees, that the council had or would approve the claim, and handed to Mr. Underwood a ‘legal opinion’ supporting the payment. Mr. Underwood later determined that the ‘legal opinion’ was actually a memo from Defendant to Mr. Underwood, clearly prepared ahead, in an attempt to justify the attorney’s fees claim.”
The documents state that the records show that the claim was entered into the Town’s finance software on December 21, 2020, and that the check that was presented to Mr. Underwood for signature was dated December 23, 2020. The deputy town clerk reported that she received the claim from Defendant, and that Defendant provided her with instructions identifying the budget line item for which the claim was to be “coded.” Town records and interviews determined that the defendant had taken no steps to submit the claim for attorney’s fees after the time of the last bill in September 2020, until the December 2020 “out of cycle” claim period.
Although he had some concerns, the document states, Underwood sent the check out. But when the claim had still not been presented to the council for approval on April 16, 2021, Underwood expressed his concerns to the town’s attorney who responded on April 19 stating, “This needs to be brought to council attention. I spoke with the mayor this afternoon and he will be putting this item on the agenda for Thursday.
“Bottomline: It is my opinion that the expense is personal (political). This expense does relate to official duties and there may be an argument that indemnification is warranted. However, the claim was paid before that question was addressed to my office and before the council had an opportunity to learn of the matter. The claim should not have been paid. At this point, the money should be repaid to the Town and the process should be submitted to the council for determination. The request that needs to be addressed is whether the Town agrees to indemnify the costs. After speaking with [Defendant] Brandon [Dewey], he stated that he will be putting this issue on the Thursday agenda.”
According to the filing documents, however, Dewey wrote a personal check to the town for the $12,020.20 that same day and failed to follow through with a request for council approval of the payment. Underwood brought the issue up to multiple council members and it ended up being made public via a Facebook post. Underwood reported that after it was made public Dewey came into the town office and gave him “an hour to get out of the office.” Council records indicate that Underwood was terminated that same day without council members’ prior knowledge and no request for approval of a reimbursement claim was ever submitted.
According to a Bitterroot Star article published on September 8, 2021, an investigation into the matter of the payment of the legal fees was conducted by Isaac Kantor of Kantor Law, PLLC, who found that Dewey had done nothing wrong in submitting the claim for payment.
According to the Summary of Findings in Kantor’s report, “A preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that Dewey did not behave in an improper manner when he submitted a claim for attorney’s fees incurred in relation to a recall effort to the Town of Stevensville for reimbursement… A preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that Dewey did not subsequently take steps to conceal the claim or prevent it from coming before the town council for approval…
“Kantor interviewed former finance officer Robert Underwood, Deputy Clerk Laura Miller, Town Clerk Jenelle Berthoud and former council president Dempsey Vick, as well as reviewing a number or documents related to the incident,” states the article.
The article also notes that the investigation cost the town $3,260.00.
According to the filing documents in this latest lawsuit, Sosa’s investigation also revealed that Dewey, while serving as the interim finance officer for the Town, paid himself retroactive pay not authorized by the town council, and duplicate pay for the month of August 2019, leading to a second charge of theft by embezzlement.
It states that at the May 23, 2019, regular town council meeting, the council approved separate compensation for Dewey to perform the duties of the finance officer and town clerk, approving $25 per hour, not to exceed 30 hours per week. Thereafter, on June 5, 2019, Dewey paid himself for 210 hours of extra pay, representing 180 hours of retroactive pay for time prior to the May 23rd council meeting, representing $4,500.00 gross pay. The town council meeting did not address or approve retroactive pay, and Dewey did not bring the issue of retroactive pay to the town council.
The investigation also discovered that Dewey “arranged for duplicate pay for himself in August 2019 while he was training Mr. Underwood as the newly hired finance officer (for which Defendant was receiving the extra pay described above), and during an unusual time of transition within the Town Council.” Specifically, in August 2019, it alleges, Dewey arranged to receive a paycheck for himself at the beginning and at the end of the month.
In the third theft charge leveled against Dewey, it is alleged that between the time he lost the election in 2021 and the time he served out his remaining term he gave five employees who had turned in resignations severance pay with the total cost to the town being $19,863 above and beyond the usual vacation, sick leave and compensatory payout to which they were entitled.
But when interviewed by Chief Sosa, it states in the filing papers, Dewey admitted that he had added severance pay to the end-of-employment payout for each of the five employees, and admitted that he never presented the severance pay issue to the town council. Chief Sosa’s interviews of the town council members confirmed that the severance pay issue was never brought before the town council.
When reached for comment, Dewey said that he was following the advice of legal counsel to not comment on the case.
A court date for answering the allegations has been set for July 27.
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected from its original version to state that it was the new administration, and not the Stevensville Town Council, that requested an investigation into perceived financial irregularities under the former mayor.