Case involving former Clanton police chief heads to grand jury

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The case involving Clanton’s police chief, who faces charges alleging to theft of funds from the local Fraternal Order of Police, was bound over to a grand jury on Tuesday.

Brian Allan Stilwell, 44, of Clanton, appeared in court around 10:30 a.m. for a preliminary hearing before special District Judge Glenn Goggans, who has been appointed to handle the case in Chilton County for further court proceedings.

After hearing testimony from both the prosecution and defense, Goggans ruled there was probable cause on the two charges against Stilwell and bound them over to a grand jury.

It is unclear when the grand jury will hear the cases against Stilwell. The grand jury in Chilton County meets twice a year, once in February and once in August.

Stilwell was arrested April 28 for “misappropriation of funds” related to his role as treasurer for the Fraternal Order of Police Smith/Dale Lodge 31.

He was charged with one count of first-degree theft and one count of fraudulent use of a credit card.

Stilwell allegedly used a FOP credit/debit card to make unauthorized ATM cash withdrawals and purchases, according to court records.

He allegedly withdrew $200 from an ATM at Regions Bank in Clanton.

He also exerted “unauthorized control of funds” belonging to the FOP by making unauthorized ATM cash withdrawals and making unauthorized purchases of $4,052.58, according to court records.

The lodge maintained only one bank account, which was used for everything from paying utility bills to collecting and distributing funds for the lodge’s annual Operation Santa Claus effort, which provided Christmas gifts for children.

Several witnesses were called to testify on Tuesday, including Jason DiNunzio, who is an investigator with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.

DiNunzio testified that he was contacted by C.J. Robinson with the 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, who forwarded information to Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s investigative division, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.

DiNunzio said the investigation started in March and is still ongoing.

The prosecution for the case is being handled by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Prosecutor John Kachelman asked DiNunzio about video surveillance obtained from both Regions Bank and Walmart in Clanton where Stilwell can allegedly be seen making withdrawals and purchases with a debit/credit card.

During cross examination, defense attorney Dan Taliaferro argued there was no written procedures for how the FOP conducts purchases with the money donated to the organization.

Taliaferro said he was unable to find any written documents in the FOP’s bylaws or articles of incorporation covering “withdrawing money from the bank account,” and it was difficult to determine how much money the organization collected and spent on Operation Santa Claus and thus how much money was missing between March 18, 2014, and Feb. 14, 2015, when Stilwell allegedly withdrew the funds.

“I guess what I am trying to determine is if you don’t know how much money was raised by the FOP and you don’t know how much should be in the account, then how do you know any money was missing?” Taliaferro asked DiNunzio.

Taliaferro also referenced two bank bags labeled “FOP,” which were found in a safe at Stilwell’s office after he was arrested

Taliaferro asked DiNunzio how much money was found in the bank bags, with DiNunzio responding $6,400.

“Is it possible that the money found in the bank bags was the money he had withdrawn from the bank?” Taliaferro asked.

DiNunzio testified that FOP members told him purchases from the FOP account had to be authorized by members in the FOP, and most of the purchases were done around Christmastime.

DiNunzio said Stilwell withdrew the funds outside the time frame for when purchases are usually made by the FOP.

The defense called Warren Garris, FOP president, who testified it was standard procedure for the FOP members to vote or approve any purchases made by the FOP.

“If we gave it, it was voted on,” Garris told the court.

Sheriff John Shearon, who has served as the chaplain for the FOP for the last seven or eight years, also testified that most of the purchases made by the FOP are voted on by members of the FOP before being made.

Taliaferro said the defense argues there is no money missing and told the judge there was no probable cause on the first-degree theft charge.

“The testimony is clear that it is unclear how much money is supposed to be in the FOP’s account,” Taliaferro said.

On the fraudulent use of a credit card charge, Taliaferro said there was no evidence that Stilwell used the money he withdrew from the account, and he could have put the money back in the safe in his office.

Kachelman said the state proved there was probable cause, and the court heard testimony on Tuesday that the transactions made by Stilwell were unauthorized transactions.

“He took money from the FOP that he was not authorized to take,” Kachelman said.

“The testimony has indicated it was over $4,000, and this is an ongoing investigation.”

Kachelman said there is potentially more money at issue.

Stilwell, who appeared in court dressed in a black suit, remains out of jail on bond of $15,000.