June 20, 2019

A former longtime Harlan city administrator faces more than a decade in prison after a state audit found that he had gambled at casinos while on-the-clock and had been reimbursed tens of thousands of dollars by the city for conferences he didn’t attend and for travel that wasn’t part of his city work, among other improprieties.

Terry Lynn Cox, 67, was charged last week with felony theft, felonious misconduct in office and misdemeanor tampering with records, court records show. He faces up to 17 years in prison if convicted.

Cox resigned in 2016 after the Harlan city clerk raised concerns with other city leaders about Cox’s travel expenses that he asked the city to pay. Cox had been city administrator there for about 36 years.

The city later requested an investigation from the Auditor of State’s Office, which released a report in 2017 of its findings that Cox received improper payments from the city of more than $120,000 in his last 12 years of employment.

A lack of records pertaining to the first two-thirds of Cox’s tenure as city administrator limited the investigation, the audit report said.

State auditors found the following alleged improprieties, among others:

— The city paid for travel, lodging and meals for conferences and trainings that didn’t exist or that Cox didn’t attend.

— The city paid for travel and registration fees for golf tournaments that were unrelated to city business.

— The city paid for expenses that someone else had paid.

— Cox submitted the same hotel bill three times, omitting the arrival and departure dates on the latter two submissions.

— The city paid Cox about $7,000 in wages for time he spent gambling at casinos.

— The city paid for an HBO subscription that was viewed exclusively in Cox’s city office.

Further, one receipt from an event venue in Harlan where the city held a recognition banquet in 2013 showed that $250 of the $300 bill was for beer and wine. The invoice had a handwritten note on it that said: “Do not give to auditors!”

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation reviewed the audit report and charged Cox with the crimes on Friday.

Cox has hired lawyers in Harlan and Des Moines to defend him.