FARMINGTON — Of those who benefited from nearly half-a-million dollars in embezzled tax money, the only people to return money as a result of letters mailed to recoup those funds are Tucker and Karen Bayless.

On Aug. 26, Tucker Bayless mailed a $1,234.32 check to the account created to receive reimbursements, he said. The check matches an amount listed in the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau Embezzlement Report dated about a month before the two vacationed at Hilton Oceanfront Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C., a destination for upscale vacations.

"The bottom line is we didn't know anything (was) stolen," Tucker Bayless said. "And so frankly, I look at us as being victims."

The Daily Times has been requesting documents from the city and Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau under the state's open records law that might identify individuals who benefited from the embezzlement of $480,727 by the bureau's former director, Debbie Dusenbery, between 2006 and 2012.

Many requests have been denied. Documents provided have had key information redacted. Another request is pending.

Tucker Bayless is the brother of Farmington Mayor Tommy Robert's wife.

Wednesday at the city's police station, The Daily Times inspected evidence in the embezzlement case that included an email between Karen Bayless and Dusenbery. In the email, Karen Bayless expressed appreciation to Dusenbery for two nights in a king, one-bedroom, beach-side suite at the Hilton Oceanfront Resort.

The arrival date was Nov. 23, 2011, according to the confirmation email, and the departure date was Nov. 25, 2011.

In the Oct. 17, 2011, email, Dusenbery wrote to Karen Bayless: "I finally heard back from my friend who works for Hilton late last night. I can get 2 rooms for 2 nights over Thanksgiving weekend at the Hilton Resort on Hilton Head complimentary ... it's nice to know people in the hotel industry! I only owe him a hot air balloon ride next year, which is an easy trade. "

Karen Bayless replied later that morning that she was "still looking at things and am not sure about any of the hotels on Hilton head," adding that if they visit the resort they will consider ocean-front rooms, which she doubted Dusenbery's friend could provide.

Dusenbery wrote Karen Bayless on Oct. 18, 2011, that an ocean-front, one-bedroom suite had been booked.

Four minutes later, Karen responded: "Thank you SO much Debbie...I will forward this to Tucker to let him know that now HE owes YOU...:D" She added: "This will be a lot of fun...now on to getting the rest of the trip lined out."

Karen and Tucker Bayless said they resisted Dusenbery's offer but she insisted.

When they arrived at Hilton Head Resort, Tucker Bayless said their two rooms were "comped" for two nights. They stayed for five nights, he said, and he paid for the flights, rental car and all incidental expenses, such as breakfast, Internet and drinks.

 

When Dusenbery approached her with the offer, Karen Bayless said she was speaking with her friend, Tonya Stinson, the current bureau director, at the bureau about her family's plans for Thanksgiving in 2011. She could not be more specific about the date.

Dusenbery overheard their conversation, Karen Bayless said, and told her she could get them a room at the resort.

Karen Bayless soon got the trip's receipt confirmations in her email. She said she told Dusenbery to return the rooms, but Dusenbery said it was already done.

Tucker Bayless said he and his wife had no knowledge the money they received from Dusenbery was embezzled. But as soon as he found out, he called Dick Gerding, a local attorney who currently works for the bureau.

Tucker Bayless said he wanted to reimburse the bureau but he didn't immediately know how much money he owed.

"Never once did I say I didn't owe the money," he said.

When he received the letters Gerding sent in August asking people to consider paying back money Dusenbery had spent on them, he said he sent the check to the trust account.

Mayor Roberts has said paying the money back is the "right thing to do." He said, though, that he won't judge those who benefited and described them as victims.

He added that it was his idea for the bureau to mail the letters to those suspected of benefiting in an attempt to recover the money.

"I had no direct, detailed knowledge about how any of these people received a benefit from these embezzled funds," he said.

Others known to have benefited from the embezzlement include the following, according to the police report of Robert Perez, a police detective who investigated the case: Police Sgt. Rick Simmons and his wife; Russell Smith, Dusenbery's former boyfriend; Ronald Fellabaum, another boyfriend; Simmon's father-in-law; and former bureau executive director, Becky Walling.

"Frankly," said Tucker Bayless, "it wasn't a lavish hotel room. It wasn't a very nice room."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.