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Central mayor denies involvement in alleged contract forgery

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CENTRAL- Recently-elected Central Mayor David Barrow is denying wrongdoing in an ongoing investigation into forgery allegations concerning city documents.

On Friday, WBRZ learned that all the mayors the City of Central has ever had are embroiled in the investigation that led the Sheriff's Office to get a search warrant Friday for Google mail server data that may yield evidence in the crime.

When the city was formed in 2005, it didn't have an email network or a computer system. The first employees created a Gmail account for temporary use. Handling government email through a private account was banned once a real network was in place, according to sheriff's records.

But the Gmail address continued to be used for nearly a decade, and investigators now say stored information from that account may be critical in shedding light on how Mac Watts' name was signed on a contract he said he didn't even know existed. Junior Shelton told deputies he found the forged contract after he fired David Barrow.

Watts was Central's first mayor, serving from 2005 until 2014, when he chose not to run for re-election.

Barrow spent much of that time as Watts' chief administrative officer.

Shelton challenged Watts unsuccessfully for the mayor's office in 2010.

In 2014, Shelton beat Dave Freneaux in the race to replace Watts.

Shelton fired Barrow as chief administrative officer just over a year later.

In an interview with WBRZ's Investigative Unit, Shelton reported finding his own name forged on a different contract when he was clearing out Barrow's office. On Tuesday, Barrow maintained that he never forged a signature but did not go into specifics about the ongoing investigation.

Barrow was arrested on felony forgery and public records violations in 2017 in that case. He maintains his innocence and has not been formally charged by the District Attorney's office due to a lack of information.

In November, Barrow was elected mayor. Shelton and the entire City Council were voted out of office.

Barrow was sworn in on Dec. 30th.

The contract that sparked the current search appears to have been signed by Watts on June 24th, 2014, days before his second term as mayor ended and Shelton's term began.

According to the search warrant application filed Friday, Watts told sheriff's investigators that he didn't sign the contract, which was for emergency debris removal, and did not even know it existed.

That contract was featured in a story by the WBRZ Investigative Unit before Barrow's 2017 arrest. Shelton displayed two versions of the document. The one in his office had Watts' signature in a different spot on the page than the version the contractor received.

Documents associated with that contract indicate that Barrow, as chief administrative officer, accepted proposals either by mail or at the Gmail address that is the subject of the search warrant.

The search warrant application doesn't name Barrow, but says this:

"City officials advise that a former employee was directed to create the email address centralrfp@gmail.com when the city was initially formed in 2005 until a network could be implemented for city use. All business relative to the City of Central was supposed to be transferred to email account belonging to the City of Central. The use of this email address after the network was established was prohibited. This same employee continued to use the email address years later to conduct business for the city. Upon this employee's termination from his position with the City of Central, officials learned they were missing documents such as this contract. No contract has been filed with the city's records regarding the contract. The email address centralrfp@gmail.com would be the only place those documents could exist. The city has no access to this email account since it is not on the network."

The warrant demands that Google provide email content, IP addresses of machines used to access the account and other email addresses or screen names connected to the account.

Shelton told WBRZ he knew nothing about the present investigation and has not had any contact with authorities.
 
"I have had no contact with any investigative authorities in months, I didn't even know an investigation was in place or that a warrant was obtained," said Shelton.

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