Firm interviews Ferris officers
By 10/23/2003 00:00:00
FBI, IRS investigates bank records
The Ellis County Press
FERRIS - The legal firm hired to investigate the police department's off-duty security company interviewed each Ferris police officer Monday, amid the sudden 30-day leave of absence by Mayor Jimmie Birdwell and two federal agencies' investigations.
Attorneys with Dallas law firm Nichols, Jackson, Dillard, hager & Smith, LLP, conducted the interviews with officers at city hall, where Mayor Pro Tem Scott Born had taken over the day-to-day duties of the city because of Birdwell's health condition.
The interviews continued Tuesday as the firm questioned Chief Jeff Cottongame, currently on paid administrative leave.
Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division opened up inquiries into the security company and bank records, city officials said last week.
Cottongame and Lt. Sherman Swafford are under investigation because they used a regular reserve officer bank account to charge the Ferris Independent School District for games and security work Ferris officers were assigned, when state law requires officers to be paid individually.
Because the officers were paid through the 'company' name of Ferris Police Reserves, the Texas Commission on Private Security is also investigating.
'For [Cottongame] to take the checks and cash them, and then pay [officers] … that's operating a business,' said Eddie Biggs, investigator for the TCPS.
Biggs said if Cot-tongame and Swafford were charged and found guilty of the Class A misdemeanor, they could lose their peace officers' licenses.
Cottongame and Swafford admitted signing at least $12,000 worth of checks without signature authority on the bank account, cashing the checks and distributing the cash to officers.
Originally, the account was used for reserve police officers and their equipment, because at the time, the FPD had more than 20 reserve officers, but the number dwindled to just one, where it stands now.
No timetable had been given for the investigations, city officials said.