Former Iowa city clerk bought car, sex toys with public money, audit finds

By: - May 23, 2022 9:03 am

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The former city clerk of Silver City in southwest Iowa improperly spent more than $60,000 from the town over the course of three years when she used town funds to pay for dozens of personal items, including adult sex toys and a new car, according to a state audit report.

Artema Gray, 44, was forced to resign her job in April 2021 after elected city officials discovered a questionable $460 payment that Gray had claimed was for a new communications system for the town’s fire department. No such system had been purchased, the audit found.

Instead, it was a monthly car payment for a 2019 Mitsubishi Mirage G4, the state investigation revealed. By the time officials discovered the improper payments, the town had made payments on the vehicle totaling about $9,200.

Following Gray’s resignation, the state auditor’s office launched an inquiry, which found that Gray began buying personal items with the town’s credit card online about a year after she started as city clerk in May 2017.

Those items included clothing, women’s undergarments, bedding, jewelry, beauty products, children’s toys, books, DVDs, a ceiling fan and numerous others. City funds paid for her fuel, her personal utility bills, medical care and lawn care.

One item was listed as a “funny porn star Halloween costume” by the audit report, which was released this month.

All told, auditors found about $61,700 of improper disbursements, about $3,500 of unsupported disbursements and about $1,600 of undeposited fundraising proceeds.

The total included about $10,900 of overpayments Gray allegedly made to herself for payroll.

Gray declined to comment for this article. During the investigation, she told auditors she had sometimes mistakenly charged personal expenses to the town, population 250, but that she repaid the money. She denied owning a car, the audit report said.

The investigation revealed the improper expenditures continued despite a state investigation in 2020 into her husband’s conduct during his brief tenure as city clerk in nearby Hastings. That state audit found $8,400 of improper disbursements and $3,500 of unsupported disbursements from Hastings’ funds, including about $2,000 the town paid to Artema Gray to teach her husband how to do the job, an audit report said.

Darren Gray, 53, was charged with felony theft — with a possible punishment of up to five years in prison — for overpaying himself, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty and received a suspended prison sentence but was ordered to pay about $15,100 in restitution for the cost of the audit. None of that has been repaid, court records show.

Mills County Attorney Naeda Elliott declined to say whether Artema Gray will face criminal charges based on the findings of the most recent state investigation.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.