Jeff Thurmond

Prison time will be the final chapter in the yearlong saga of former Franklin County Highway supervisor and County Commission candidate Jeff Thurmond.

Thurmond pleaded guilty to fraudulently using a county credit card to make $13,000 in personal purchases.

Without the help of County Auditor Tammy Vemmer, who was originally tipped off to the bogus buys, the theft might still be going on.

In recent months, Vemmer and Deputy Auditor Jan Shocklee have meticulously pored over hundreds of credit card receipts submitted by Thurmond to uncover the breadth of his crime.

The Scheme

“Right after the election last August (2016) a couple of citizens talked to me about their suspicions,” Vemmer said. “Then a county employee mentioned the same thing about purchases made at Lowe’s stores.”

The auditors began pulling all of the credit card receipts to cross-reference the purchases with what Thurmond said the items were for and what highway project they were needed.

Vemmer said the Lowe’s receipts did not list specific items by name. Thurmond would stick a Post-it note on the receipts, lying about what the items were.

To verify the items on the receipts, the auditors went to the Lowe’s website and entered the stock keeping unit (SKU) numbers.

The searches revealed the items were not the same as Thurmond said.

Vemmer shared one receipt with The Missourian that showed Thurmond’s handwritten Post-it listing items as a metal plate, and threshold. He also listed the particular project the items were supposed to be used on.

The Lowe’s search revealed the items were actually end table legs and a table leg plate.

Purchases

Most of the purchases were for small dollar amounts, but there were hundreds of receipts over the years of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Thurmond made the illegal purchases from Lowe’s stores in Washington and Sullivan and Dickey Bub in Union.

“He was getting very comfortable,” Vemmer said. “There were more and more purchases as the years went on. He made more purchases than any other employee.”

She added, in one instance, Thurmond purchased a sand-blaster for his personal use and said it was for the Calvey Creek Bridge project. 

The most expensive item was a $278 granite sink.

There also is a possibility Thurmond used the county credit cards to purchase election supplies when he was running for Second District commissioner.

“There are receipts for plywood, paints, stencils and rollers,” Vemmer said. “He (Thurmond) said the highway department sometimes makes its own homemade street signs.”

Investigation

Once Vemmer uncovered the pattern of theft, she contacted Highway Administrator Ron Williams and Sheriff Gary Toelke, who assigned a detective. 

The investigation was then passed to the Missouri Highway Patrol, which continued to work with the auditor’s office before its overall findings were presented to Prosecuting Attorney Bob Parks and warrants were issued to search Thurmond’s home and later for his arrest.

“It’s hard to believe he would do this,” Vemmer said. “Jeff was a likable person and very pleasant.”

At a hearing Aug. 29, Thurmond pleaded guilty to one felony count of fraudulent use of a credit card. His formal sentencing will be Sept. 26. Part of his punishment will include 120 days of shock incarceration in the Missouri Department of Corrections.