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By JIM SALTER, Associated Press

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — The former clerk of a tiny town in remote northeast Missouri spent more than $300,000 in taxpayer money on concerts, vacations and other personal needs, State Auditor Nicole Galloway said Wednesday.

Tracey Ray the former clerk of Center, Missouri, has not been criminally charged with financial crimes, but an investigation continues.

Meanwhile, Ray is facing four felony charges for an exchange of gunfire that injured the Ralls County sheriff and a deputy on July 2, 2019, the day city officials questioned her about financial concerns. Ray also was injured in the shooting. She was fired the next day.

Since then, her house has been sold to recoup some of the money she allegedly stole, and the small town of 500 residents is working to get the rest back, too, Mayor Dennis McMillen said.

A phone message left with Ray's attorney was not immediately returned.

The state audit was initiated after a whistleblower complaint last year, Galloway's office said in a news release. The audit alleges that more than $200,000 in city funds were used to pay Ray's charges to Amazon, Walmart, hotels, restaurants and a hair salon. City funds were also used to pay taxes, mortgage payments and for life insurance, auditors said.

“This audit details a serious breach of public trust and exposes years of dishonesty at the expense of taxpayers," Galloway said. “The abuses by the former clerk, which include using taxpayers’ dollars to pay for concert tickets and vacations in Branson, Colorado and Las Vegas, are just egregious.”

The audit found that Ray falsified records to the city board to cover her actions.

Ray had worked as town clerk since 2004, McMillen said. Like many tiny towns, McMillen and other town leaders work part-time, and he said Galloway was correct in citing a lack of oversight as part of the problem.

“We are taking steps to correct what happened,” McMillen said.

Ray's house was sold for $98,000, and all of that money will go to reimburse the town, McMillen said. “We're doing everything we can to recoup (the rest),” he said.

McMillen said details of the audit will now be turned over to prosecutors.

Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie and Chief Deputy Ronald Haught were injured with bullet fragments and ground debris during the exchange of gunfire in July last year, a police report said. Ray was treated at a hospital for three gunshot wounds.

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AG Barr on Operation Legend: 3,500 Arrests, Hundreds Charged with Federal Crimes

At a Tuesday press conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that the agency’s Operation Legend has resulted in 3,500 individuals arrested and charged with federal crimes across the United States.

Barr was joined at the press conference by Matthew Krueger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, who announced the charges against 26 individuals for allegedly operating a violent drug tracking organization.

“Since Operation Legend’s launch in July 2020, more than 3,500 arrests — including approximately 200 for homicide — have been made; more than 1,000 firearms have been seized; and nearly 19 kilos of heroin, more than 11 kilos of fentanyl (enough to deliver more than five million fatal doses), more than 94 kilos of methamphetamine, nearly 14 kilos of cocaine, and more than $6.5 million in drug proceeds have been seized,” the press release announcing the latest arrests said.

“Of the more than 3,500 individuals arrested, approximately 815 have been charged with federal offenses. More than 440 of those defendants have been charged with firearms offenses, while more than 300 have been charged with drug-related crimes,” the release said.

It was announced that 21 of the 26 suspects in Wisconsin were arrested on Tuesday for offenses related to “violent drug trafficking” of cocaine and marijuana from California for distribution in the Milwaukee area.

Enforced search warrants also netted 33 firearms, $170,000, and more than 700 grams of heroin from one location.

One of the most infamous to be arrested and charged is Louis R. Perez III, also known as “Eight Ball,” an alleged Mexican Posse gang member and the alleged current leader of the nationwide drug trafficking organization. 

Several other alleged members of the Mexican Posse gang have also been charged and arrested.

The DOJ offered details about Operation Legend:

The initiative, which was first launched first in Kansas City, MO., on July 8, 2020, is named in honor of four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept early in the morning of June 29 in Kansas City. The operation was subsequently expanded to Chicago and Albuquerque on July 22, 2020; to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee on July 29, 2020; to St. Louis and Memphis on August 6, 2020; and to Indianapolis on August 14, 2020.

Arrests and charges were filed against individuals in nine states — 147 in Kansas City, Missouri; 150 in Chicago, Illinois; 60 in Albuquerque, New Mexico; 72 in Cleveland, Ohio; 65 in Detroit, Michigan, 47 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 205 in St. Louis, Missouri; 27 defendants in Memphis, Tennessee; and 45 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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