Former deputy county clerk faces felony charges

A former Nye County Clerk’s Office employee has been charged with unlawful use of public money after she allegedly admitted to a superior in December she had borrowed more than $2,000 from the office’s cash drawer and was unable to pay it back.

On Dec. 6, 2013 Deputy Clerk Rebecca Zinn Ballard allegedly told then Chief Deputy Clerk Shelia Winn she had been taking money from the clerk’s office for months, and replacing it prior to the funds being placed in the office’s bank account. This time, however, she had borrowed approximately $2,200 and was unable to pay it back.

Winn then offered to replace the missing funds from her own personal bank account to make sure the office was made whole. She also relieved Ballard of any duties within the office having to do with money.

“I didn’t know anything about it until Dec. 6. When she told me about it, I thought about it for a few minutes and my first thoughts were, honestly, number one it was an election year coming up for my boss, and at that I was working for her and was very dedicated to her. So my first instinct was this could look really bad for my boss,” Winn said Tuesday. “My second instinct was this is my office and I let this happen. From what she told me it was money she needed for one of her children, to me that was the kicker, and being my friend, I had the money in my savings account, so I went that day on my lunch hour or a little later and took the money out of my account and I replaced it in the account of the clerk’s office. And Becky had no further contact with the funds from that point forward, and there was never an issue again before I left in February.”

Winn is running against Nye County Clerk Sandra “Sam” Merlino in November’s general election.

An investigation was launched into the incident by the district attorney’s office in February after both District Attorney Brian Kunzi and Merlino were notified by a representative of the county employees’ union that someone in the clerk’s office had been accused of stealing money. A District Court employee whom Winn had told about the incident had reportedly gone to the representative following Winn’s Feb. 18 resignation to talk to her about the offense.

During an interview with an investigator from the DA’s office, the woman said she was concerned that with Winn’s resignation Ballard may be promoted and again have access to money in the clerk’s office.

Merlino reportedly told the same investigator she had no knowledge of Ballard’s actions prior to being told on Feb. 21. She explained the clerk’s office does not have a set schedule of when the office makes deposits into their bank account. They simply make a deposit when they have time or cash collected totals $1,000 or more.

After learning of the investigation, Ballard allegedly sent Merlino a text message asking if she was going to be fired.

According to an affidavit from Merlino, she informed Ballard she would “probably” be fired and to contact human resources about her concerns.

On Feb. 24, Ballard resigned from her position with the county. She had worked for the clerk’s office for eight years.

Winn said she had to wonder why if the district attorney’s office knew about the incident in February, they decided to wait until the day before the primary election to file charges.

In hindsight, however, she said if she could do it all over again, she probably would have told Merlino sooner about Ballard’s confession, but it wouldn’t change how she handled the situation.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong. The money was replaced, I did my supervisory duties by removing her from the money. And quite frankly, if it was going on from January to December of 2013, why wasn’t it caught in the final stages of the Tonopah office?” she said.

“In hindsight, I have to be honest, I would have probably done it again, just because I thought I was doing everything for the right reason,” Winn added.

Ballard has since been charged with unlawful use of public money, a category D felony, and misconduct of public officer, a category E felony.

According to a criminal complaint filed with the local courts, an arraignment hearing has been set in the matter for Aug. 4.