New Details: Health Dept. employee arrested on theft charges - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

New Details: Health Dept. employee arrested on theft charges

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - We're learning more about a Hamilton County Health Department employee accused of stealing on the job and why it has the county changing policies for its employees.

The health department reported 15 missing computers, totaling more than $10,000 tax payer dollars, plus a projector.

After being employed with the health department more than 30 years, Ricky Flerl is behind bars, charged with theft over $1,000. Now we're looking into his past, and the county's hiring policies.

The Hamilton County Health Department says the stolen computers had no medical records on them. They say they were brand new a year ago and were noticed missing shortly after they arrived.

"The only mistake in my opinion, was that it should've been reported to the sheriff's department," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

Mayor Coppinger says he was just notified of the thefts about a month ago-- following an internal investigation. He told administrators to report the crime. It didn't take detectives long to find some of the computers at an EZ Pawn on Lee Highway. Then, investigators say they linked them to long-time health department employee Ricky Flerl.

"We're disappointed when any employee is alleged in any theft of any kind. Again, this property belongs to tax payers," Coppinger said.

The surprises didn't stop there. Court records show Flerl was arrested for theft of property from Beacon Health on Signal Mountain in 2005, but he was granted a "guilty plea diversion" in 2006 if he paid around $300 in restitution, which he did pay.

Because Flerl paid the restitution, it was expunged from his record and wouldn't appear on a background check. The district attorney's office says that's a common deal for first time offenders.

"I was only made aware of it 48 hours ago," Coppinger said.

Accused of stealing from a health facility. That's info Mayor Coppinger says the county would've liked to have known before now, but says they didn't for two reasons. Flerl's pre-employment background check was decades ago and the 2005 arrest was expunged from his record. Now the county is adding a policy for all employees.

"We're going to make a change to our handbook that all criminal activity, if you're arrested, you will have to report it to your supervisor," Coppinger said.

Mayor Coppinger also added to the county's policy, that all thefts be reported to law enforcement immediately, instead of investigating internally, like in this case.

Ricky Flerl is scheduled for court February 19. Mayor Coppinger says, if he's found guilty, he will face disciplinary action that could include termination.

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