Federal grand jury indicts Tryon commissioner, former fire chief

The former town manager and fire chief Joe Davis and Tryon commissioner Leroy Miller are charged with federal program fraud conspiracy. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

A Tryon council member and the town's former fire chief have been indicted on multiple counts of fraud.

Former town manager and fire chief Joe Davis and Tryon commissioner Leroy Miller are charged with federal program fraud conspiracy.

Miller still has his job on the council, though he confirmed to the federal judge in Asheville on Wednesday that he will resign his position effective in June.

Miller and Davis face a count of conspiracy to commit fraud for their alleged involvement in a scheme investigators said benefited each other. Miller, who ran away from News 13’s camera after his federal court hearing, faces an additional three counts of federal program fraud, extortion and witness tampering. If found guilty Miller could face up to 55 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The two men surrendered themselves to U.S. Marshals on Wednesday morning when they were informed of the federal charges.

Davis was fired in January 2017 after the Town of Tryon said he used town credit cards to pay for more than $2,000 of personal expenses for Miller.

Miller resigned from his position in March 2017 after he was named in Davis' investigation.

A special agent with the FBI said the men arrested Wednesday are accused of stealing from the system they were entrusted to protect.

The U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case told the judge during Davis' first appearance in court that Davis had been cooperative, aiding investigators in the case by turning over text messages he had allegedly saved from his conversations with Miller. Steve Lindsay, Davis’ attorney, also confirmed his client had worn a wire on two occasions to help investigators gain more evidence in their case against Miller. Lindsay said there was no deal being discussed with federal prosecutors for a lesser charge because Davis had been cooperating.

Wednesday's unsealed indictment laid out specific examples of the alleged scheme going on between the two men, who worked for the city from 2012-16. The state presented examples of Miller’s bills, which Davis would pay with the town of Tryon’s credit card. Bills included a Nationwide insurance bill for $269 in June 2016 and a Duke energy bill for $228.50. The indictment stated Miller, in return, promised Davis he would lobby is fellow council members to keep Davis at a certain salary or get certain benefits, even though Davis was no longer serving in dual roles for Tryon as fire chief and town manager.

Miller’s attorney had no comment Wednesday.

Lindsay said Davis felt pressured to help Miller. He said Davis felt threatened, that he would lose his job if he didn’t help Miller by using the town credit card to pay Miller’s bills when asked. Lindsay indicated Davis had gone to other town officials, but he said no one wanted to address the issue.

“When you sit down and talk with people and say this is going on yet again, and you try to talk to people who have the power to do something about it and nothing,” Lindsay said

Lindsay would not say who Davis went to.

“I think that will come out,” he said.

Attempts to reach Tryon’s town manager and mayor were unsuccessful.

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