Criminal charges filed against Columbia Mayor Curtis Hardwick in 2017 after city gas customers were overbilled have been dismissed, just over a month after Hardwick was defeated for re-election.
Hardwick was indicted by an Adair County grand jury in March 2017 on a felony charge of theft by unlawful taking and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.
The case started in Adair County but was moved to Circuit Judge David Williams’ court in Burkesville and was being prosecuted by John Gardner, Barren County commonwealth’s attorney.
The case was originally investigated and presented to the grand jury by Columbia Police Chief Jason Cross. This past August, the case began to unravel and Judge Williams asked Gardner to begin an investigation as though he were going to present the case to a grand jury again.
On Dec. 19, Judge Williams accepted a request by Gardner and dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning charges cannot be brought up again.
Hardwick said he is pleased with the outcome but believes the case was drawn out in an effort to impact him politically.
“I had faith in God and faith in the judicial system. That’s why I never did waver or try to give up on it,” Hardwick said Thursday after receiving a notice about the dismissal. Hardwick was offered a plea agreement but refused to accept it.
Hardwick said he believes the case was deliberately delayed and his attorney, David Broderick, was often unable to set court dates with Gardner in a timely manner.
“I appreciate the support of a lot of people. I’ve had a lot of people stop me on the street and say, ‘We know you didn’t do anything wrong.’ It makes you feel good.”
The charges stem from an overpayment of more than $100,000 by city tax customers in violation of a city ordinance.
City Council members were notified of the gas overcharges during a meeting in January 2017. Customers were overbilled over a 13-month period that ended June 2016. Hardwick had been notified from an auditor of the overcharge several months earlier and had already started reimbursement payments to customers when the council learned of the situation. Bills did not reflect the repayments, however, and customers were not notified about the mistake until after the auditor’s report.
Hardwick has contended from the beginning that he made an honest mistake and began reimbursing customers when he became aware of the overcharge. He was not accused of benefiting from the overpayment personally and the overcharge went into the city’s coffers.