The former director of the Vanderburgh County Emergency Management Agency and an Evansville business owner are under the microscope after a review finds a state grant-funded program was riddled with issues. According to documents obtained by Eyewitness News, the review, which began after Sherman Greer resigned as EMA director in July 2013, reportedly found numerous instances of equipment that couldn’t be accounted for and work that was not completed.

In July 2013, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke asked for Greer’s resignation, saying he felt he could no longer trust the longtime EMA director. Greer had been the agency’s director for 23 years. The resignation was prompted by an internal review which found Greer mis-managed the abundance of an employee’s overtime. That employee had racked up $18,000 in overtime in just a few months.

A week later, Greer’s second-in-command, Adam Groupe, was terminated after that review found numerous issues concerning the violations of city policies on bidding procedures.

In 2007, while Greer was still director, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security awarded a sizeable grant to District 10. The district is comprised of Southwestern Indiana counties, including Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey, Gibson, Pike, Dubois, Spencer and Perry. The EMA offices present in those counties are consolidated into the district, which allows emergency management officials to, among other things, allocate resources in case of a disaster.

The grant was approved for the installation of several amateur radio repeater and transmission sites throughout the region within District 10 as well as connecting the National Weather Service (NWS) in Paducah, Kentucky. That connection would be made through a repeater site that was to be located in southern Illinois. The grant and the entire project had to be completed by March 31, 2010.

But it wasn’t.

At the time, not only was Greer serving as the city-county EMA director, but he was also serving as the fiscal agent for District 10. As the fiscal agent, the responsibility of ensuring the grant and the project were completed properly fell squarely on Greer’s shoulders.

The discrepancies with this particular grant were discovered in the months following Greer’s resignation.

In late July, after Greer and Groupe were no longer associated with the EMA, Mayor Winnecke appointed Evansville Police Captain Andy Chandler and Evansville Fire Battalion Chief Cliff Weaver to serve as interim EMA directors. Weaver would later become the full-time director.

Shortly after their appointments, Weaver and Chandler were contacted by a number of EMA directors within District 10 inquiring about the status of the amateur radio grant, Chandler said.

“We discovered that a great deal of this equipment had never been installed, or in some of the locations, it had been installed but was never tested nor was it operational,” Chandler said. “In fact, at one of the locations, the power still hadn’t been hooked up to one of the pieces of equipment.”

The amateur radio system, also known has ham radios, was intended to connect the region and National Weather Service together in case primary communications systems were impacted by a widespread disaster like a tornado outbreak or an earthquake. The system can be likened to a backup communications system.

But in late 2013, it became clear to Chandler that the network was incomplete at best, he said.

“This was a pretty troubling discovery,” Chandler said. “As we dug further, we found more and more instances of this.”

The issues trace back to one company, J&S Communications of Evansville, and one person, Sherman Greer.

“[Greer] was elected [by District 10] to be the fiscal agent,” Chandler said. “The fiscal agent has to take the responsibility upon themselves. It was upsetting to me to discover these things because I have a high deal of respect for Sherman. It was troubling to me.”

Over the next several months and into 2014, Chandler began to inspect and survey the sites where the equipment was supposed to be installed and in operation. Noted in his final report submitted to the Indiana Inspector General’s Office, Chandler said he had been notified by the other District 10 EMA directors that they had been inquiring about the project’s status through Greer for a lengthy period of time but never received an adequate answer.

Throughout their investigation, Chandler and Weaver allegedly found there were tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and labor that had been paid out for this grant yet the equipment had never been delivered nor had the work been completed. According to Chandler, there were invoices for radio equipment and labor installation charges and those invoices had been submitted and approved by Greer.

“It was either fraud or it had to be very poor management for not following up to ensure it was correctly done and to do spot checks or audits of it,” Chandler said. “It can only bring you to one conclusion and it has to be one of those two options.”

In late August 2013, Chandler and Kent Winkler with the Princeton Fire Territory, conducted inspections of some of the existing sites in Posey County, Vanderburgh County and Warrick County.

All the sites had the radio equipment installed. However, Chandler reported finding that some had old antennas and transmission cables despite J&S invoices listing that new items were installed.  Also, some equipment had not been hooked up to the feed line or had been powered off, Chandler said.

Furthermore, Chandler reportedly found invoices for labor and equipment installed in Dubois County for a link and radio hub that totaled more than $91,000. However, more than $30,000 of equipment had not been delivered, Chandler said.

District 10 EMA leaders and James Utley, the owner of J&S Communications would then have multiple meetings in the Fall and Winter of 2013-2014. After those meetings, Chandler acknowledged that Utley had made some progress but there were repeated delays.

“[Utley] had stated that he had intended to complete the grant as contracted,” Chandler said. “But due to some various hardships and excuses, he was not able to do it.”

On February 11th, at yet another meeting between District 10 leaders and Utley, a deadline was set.

“I had even told [Utley] openly in one of those meetings… that I felt that with what had occurred, there was probable cause for criminal charges.”

Chandler said Utley was informed that District 10 would much rather have the project completed and had no wishes to see Utley prosecuted. However, the deadline was never met and patience had worn thin.

Chandler submitted his final report to the Inspector General’s Office who also forwarded the case file to the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office.

“They did not thing they could do a prosecution because nowhere did we find any type of document or any type of evidence that had an ending or closing date on the contract,” Chandler said.

Because there was no closing date, it meant the contract was ‘open ended.’ With an open ended contract, there is no deadline that requires all work to be completed. Closing dates are typically a fundamental element of typical contracts.

In a phone interview with Greer on Wednesday afternoon, he unequivocally denied the allegations, as did Utley.

Utley and Greer both claim the grant was plagued by issues from the beginning. On Utley’s end, he said there were issues with getting the proper licensing and site reviews completed before work was set to begin. There were also aspects to the project that were not taken into consideration in the beginning,  he said.

Greer said the project suffered a long delay because there were issues in getting the correct radio frequencies to get the system working properly. Once those frequencies were secured, the grant had closed, Greer said.

Utley maintains he held up his end of the bargain.

“And more because I did all this extra work. Not to mention, the extra work and extra hassle I’ve been going through. It’s been pretty mind boggling to me,” Utley said.”

These issues, Utley said, caused him to incur up to $30,000 in expenses that were not covered by the grant. As for the $30,000 worth of equipment that remains unaccounted for, Utley said it’s sitting at his location.

“They haven’t picked it up,” Utley said. “There’s some of it that is my fault but then again, they share some of the big burden for not working and being open with me and saying, ‘hey look, we know you did this extra work we need to take it out of the grant or pay you.’ Have someone call me and I will deliver the equipment to their location. The equipment is here. I’m waiting for some kind of resolution, money wise.”

As for what happens next, Chandler said District 10 or a county EMA office could file a civil suit against J&S Communications. So far, no decision has been made on whether that will, in fact, happen.