Former Center city clerk sentenced to prison for stealing more than $300,000 from town

Former Center city clerk Tracey Ray, who now goes by Tracey Carmen, pictured here during a November 2019 arraignment in Ralls County District Court related to four felony charges she faced in connection with a shooting involving Ralls County sheriff’s deputies.

ST. LOUIS — The former clerk of Center, Mo., who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $300,000 from the town will spend time in federal prison.

Tracey Carman was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Rodney Sippel. She also was ordered to pay $314,889 in restitution.

Carman, 48, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and federal program theft in June to stealing money from the town of about 500 people in Ralls County. Carman was charged under the surname Ray from her second marriage, but court records show she dropped the surname and now identifies as Carman.

In September 2020, Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office released an audit that showed Carman siphoned off $316,887 in taxpayer funds from Jan. 1, 2015, until June 2019. Auditors also found another $87,691 in questionable payments made by Carman with city funds to different vendors and people.

The audit found Carman used taxpayer dollars to pay personal credit card bills totaling $206,343 from city bank accounts, while earning $1,997 in credit card rewards points. Auditors say she also paid for health insurance coverage totaling at least $62,013, personal expenses totaling at least $35,547, made improper payroll disbursements to herself totaling $3,580 and did not deposit at least $7,407 in cash receipts.

The credit card payments included personal expenses, such as entertainment, travel, hair salons, restaurants and retailers.

Center fired Carman, who had been with the city since 2004, on July 3, 2019, after learning that she had failed to file mandatory city financial reports with the Missouri Department of Revenue for three straight years, despite telling the City Council that reports had been filed.

Federal prosecutors asked for a sentence between 27 and 33 months, arguing that Carman targeted the town for her own personal benefit and gain.

“These are not isolated incidents, as her criminal conduct continued week after week, month after month, and year after year for many years,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith in a sentencing memo. “Defendant’s schemes remained undetected due to her acts of concealment, which included the creation of false records and the presentation of false information.”

Goldsmith added her scheme might never have been detected if she had not been on vacation when Center was notified that it failed to file financial statements with the state of Missouri.

In a letter from Center Mayor Dennis McMillen and the City Council, they asked that she receive the maximum sentence available under law.

“The city of Center is a small community and we are not able to employ a large number of persons, therefore the council and mayor are placed in a position to trust the city clerk to do her job professionally and honestly,” they wrote. “Mrs. Ray certainly violated that trust, and without any regard to the impact it would have on the citizens of the city of Center, abused our trust in a most egregious way.”

Carman’s attorney argued prison sentence was not appropriate, claiming that she has made progress

“She regularly goes to counseling. She is living with family,” wrote First Assistant Federal Public Defender Kevin Curran in a sentencing memo. “She has a plan for employment to continue working on her mental health.”

Curran also said that Carman sold her home and has $100,000 in escrow to start paying restitution.

Carman had more than a dozen letters of support filed on her behalf.

She still faces four felony charges for allegedly firing a gun at Ralls County Sheriff’s deputies on the night of July 2, 2019.

As the board was voting to fire Ray, she was being treated in a St. Louis hospital for three gunshot wounds suffered in an exchange of gunfire with Ralls County sheriff’s deputies, who said they returned fire after Ray allegedly shot a gun.

Then Ralls County Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie and Ralls County Chief Deputy Ronald Haught suffered minor injuries from bullet fragments and ground debris in the shooting.

That case is pending with a trail set to start Nov. 29 in Boone County where the case was moved.