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Former Willard Mayor (Now Alderman) Under Investigation for Alleged Embezzlement
The Willard Files - No. 1
There is no one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:10 and 3:23
Update: On October 24, 2023, Alderman Hendrickson resigned and entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors after being charged with stealing nearly $300,000 from 500 drivers at his former employer, Prime, Inc. See here.
“That’s a BULLSHIT EXCUSE!” Alderman Corey Hendrickson shot back at Mayor Samuel Snider during a tense exchange over a delayed appointment at the October 24, 2022, meeting of the Willard Board of Aldermen.
Ten seconds earlier, I’d had a much-needed change of heart, having decided not to continue to pursue a worrying city-government matter that had been bothering me since late summer. And, for a few moments at least, I felt my mood rising as if a burden had been lifted. But now, ten seconds later, Alderman Hendrickson’s outburst completely obliterated my short-lived relief, slamming me back down into ugly reality.
“Seriously!? I just want this to be over!” I lamented under my breath.
But the drama wasn’t anywhere near to being over. Far from it.
Though Alderman Hendrickson didn’t know it at the time, I’d spent that week researching a tip from a Willard resident (whose name is known to myself but who wishes to remain anonymous) that he did not live in the administrative ward he was elected to serve. And, by the beginning of November, I knew he did not appear to rent or own a residence in Ward 1, and I also knew he appeared to be spending the majority of his time in Ward 2 at the home of the former Willard city clerk, whose last day was in early October. But mere seconds before his outburst, I’d decided to just let the matter go because my conscience had been increasingly getting the better of me:
“The city clerk has five kids,” I kept telling myself. “What if it were me? How would revealing something like this affect my family?”
“He seemed like a good mayor, and he’s the most knowledgeable alderman on the board. Does it really matter that he doesn’t live in his ward?”
“You’re far from perfect yourself, Brad. Just leave it alone and move on.”
Each of us is a mixed bag of good and bad. The one thing I do not wish to inflict on anyone is the terrible feeling of being caught, of having to face the small world you live in while stamped on the forehead with the secrets you’ve been trying to hide. It’s a sick-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling — an awful mixture of fear and helplessness — and you either fully swallow it all down and change for the better, or vomit pieces of it up in anger and don’t.
At different times in my life, I’ve faced both.
So, sitting there watching and knowing, it was hard to decide what to do.
Then, three weeks later, a much more serious rumor the tipster had shared about Alderman Hendrickson — one that seemed so far-fetched that I’d initially dismissed it — turned out to be true:
He was being investigated by law enforcement for allegedly embezzling from his former employer, Prime, Inc.
Two weeks after that, sitting in my office and examining what seemed like incontrovertible evidence of an ongoing investigation — a series of emails and a carefully-worded, non-committal voicemail from the investigating officer — I let out a heavy sigh of resignation.
Sometimes, we don’t get to move on, even when we want to.
Some necessary background and recent history
The Board of Aldermen is the legislative body for the City of Willard. Aldermen pass local laws (ordinances), consider rezoning requests, and approve the city’s approximately seven million dollar annual budget. The board consists of six elected representatives — two from each of Willard’s three administrative districts, designated Ward 1, Ward 2, and Ward 3.
When filing for election, board candidates are required by law to reside within the administrative district (the ward) for which they are running. If elected, they are required by law to continue to reside in the district they serve.
I was once an alderman, having been elected to a one-year term in April of 2014. I had no interest in running again; I’d mainly thrown my name in the ring the year before because I was curious about how the process of being an alderman worked. My term ended in April of 2015.
A month earlier, in March of 2015, after making a few phone calls to ask the mayoral candidates for the upcoming April election some questions, I used the Facebook group Willard MO - CITY NEWS & ISSUES — a group I founded in July of 2013 — to support Corey Hendrickson for mayor in a crowded race that included Ron Mansker, David Roggensees, and then incumbent Mayor Wendell Forshee (now deceased). Mr. Hendrickson subsequently defeated Mayor Forshee and the other candidates.
Shortly after the election, I asked Mayor-elect Hendrickson and Alderman-elect Jamie Buckley if they would be willing to take over as administrators of the Willard MO - CITY NEWS & ISSUES Facebook group. They agreed, and, seven years later, Alderman Hendrickson is still administrator of that group with the help of moderator Betsy Buckley (Jamie’s spouse).
Corey Hendrickson served as Willard’s mayor for six years beginning in April of 2015. In 2016, he appointed then twenty-year-old Samuel Snider to fill a Board of Aldermen vacancy. Mr. Hendrickson was twice reelected and remained mayor until his defeat in April of 2021 by a familiar challenger — now incumbent Mayor Samuel Snider.
On April 5th, 2022, after having lost his mayoral bid for reelection a year earlier, Mr. Hendrickson was elected Ward 1 alderman by write-in with 51 votes.
By most accounts, former Mayor Hendrickson was a knowledgeable, well-liked, and well-respected mayor. And from my recent observations of Alderman Hendrickson at city board meetings, he often seems to be the most knowledgeable alderman in the room when it comes to the inner workings of city government and city services.
But two years earlier, in March of 2020, while still mayor, he filed for divorce from his second wife, Kate Campbell. The divorce was finalized on April 26th, 2022 — twenty-one days after his election as Ward 1 alderman — a piece of information that will become relevant below.
Where does he live?
On September 19th, before I learned about the active investigation or his residency issues, I published an article that questioned the recent resignations of city staff and an elected official that had occurred over the summer. A few days later, I was contacted by the aforementioned tipster who claimed to have information that might partly explain the odd undercurrent of hostility I’d sometimes observed between some of the board members and the mayor.
I try to exercise a healthy sense of skepticism, particularly when someone wishes to have their name kept anonymous. But I decided to investigate the less far-fetched claim, thinking it wouldn’t take much effort to figure out where Alderman Hendrickson lived and be able to dismiss the claim as false.
But after several days of researching online public records and social media accounts, I kept coming up empty-handed. The only information I seemed to be able to verify was that Alderman Hendrickson was still using his ex-wife’s address on his voter registration, that he spent at least some of his time at a 65-acre farm (owned by his father in Utah) in Elkland, and that he maintained a post office box at the Willard Post Office.
So I asked the tipster if they knew where he lived.
“He’s living with Jen Rowe,” came the reply.
Jennifer Rowe — Willard’s city clerk for the past seven years, until she resigned in October.
I thought to myself, “But I like the city clerk. She does a great job! Surely that isn’t the case.”
Skeptical, I went ahead and consulted public records to see if she owned any property in the area.
She did. In Willard — Ward 2.
So I drove by late one evening, expecting to find nothing.
That is, until I saw the same white extended-cab pickup truck I’d seen Alderman Hendrickson driving to board meetings; the one with the custom rear license plate and distinctive missing paint on the front quarter panel.
“Maybe they’re just friends and he’s here for a visit.”
But it was past 10 p.m.
I shrugged, and decided I’d have to drive by again some other night to sort it out.
So I did — and on enough nights to overcome my skepticism. Eventually, two months and many trips later, I was satisfied that it at least appeared to be true.
During that time, Alderman Hendrickson didn’t always drive his white truck to board meetings; he mainly drove a black dually pickup with a different custom rear license plate. And one of those trucks was nearly always parked in front of the former city clerk’s house at night, while the other was usually parked at the farm in Elkland. He also once arrived in a white Ford Focus that was normally parked in the former city clerk’s driveway.
I cannot verify where Alderman Hendrickson was living prior to October, but he appears to have been living with the former city clerk since then. And if he does have a house or apartment somewhere in Ward 1, I wasn’t able to find it, despite having tried. According to my source, he also lived with the city clerk over the summer and was staying with her in Ward 2 when he was elected as Ward 1 alderman in April 2022.
A lack of paperwork
Normally, it would be quick and easy to check to see what address of residence a candidate used when filing for election: municipal candidates who apply by the filing deadline must submit to the city clerk a declaration of candidacy; similarly, most write-in candidates must submit a declaration of intent. Both types of declaration form require the candidate to provide their place of residence and a sworn signature. The signature of the election official is required as well — in this case, the city clerk’s.
But thanks to an intentional loophole in Missouri election law, if no candidate has filed to run for a particular office, then a person can run as a write-in and is neither required to fill out any paperwork that includes an address, or to swear to any paperwork at all — either before or after an election.
That explains why my Sunshine Request for all candidate paperwork for the April 5, 2022 election (a request I submitted to acting City Clerk Dona Slater at the beginning of December) was returned with a set of paperwork for every candidate except Alderman Hendrickson — who was elected by write-in for Ward 1 where no other candidate had filed.
It’s certainly entirely possible that Alderman Hendrickson wasn’t living with the city clerk in April 2022. I was able to verify only the following:
his two-year-long divorce was finalized twenty-one days after the election
he appears to rely on a post office box for his permanent address
he still uses his ex-wife’s address on his voter registration
his address for the April 2022 election is not on file with the City of Willard
and he appears to have resided in Ward 2 since at least October
But all of that taken together — particularly in light of Mr. Hendrickson’s outright denials (further below) of any knowledge of an ongoing embezzlement investigation against him, and his insistence that in April 2022 he still lived at what is now his ex-wife’s home in Ward 1 — is difficult to ignore.
To quote former city clerk Jennifer Rowe from an April 4th interview with KY3 , “It’s then my job [after an election] to vet if [write-in candidates] live in that ward and if they’re eligible to serve in that position.”
Such being the case, I do not think one could be blamed for feeling it necessary to ask:
Where was Alderman Hendrickson living in April 2022? And where has he been living since then?
The potential, albeit apparently unverifiable answers to those questions made the tipster’s other allegation — that Alderman Hendrickson was being investigated for embezzlement — look much less far-fetched than when I’d originally heard it. So, eventually, I decided to look into that allegation, too.
In mid-November, I received another message from the tipster claiming that the embezzlement allegation had now become an active investigation. The message included a photo of a business card belonging to a corporal with the Springfield Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit.
Having grown increasingly less skeptical of the claim after having repeatedly observed Alderman Hendrickson’s vehicles in front of the former clerk’s house, I reached out to the corporal and left him a voicemail, offering to give him information I’d gathered while researching the residency issue.
After calling again a few days later and receiving no response, I decided to email the corporal instead, sharing the information I’d acquired and telling him I’d heard about the embezzlement allegation. He emailed back the very next day, saying he had left a voicemail a couple of days ago (the carefully-worded, non-committal voicemail mentioned earlier). But somehow, I had missed it.
The corporal remained completely professional in his email, never indicating what type of investigation he was conducting. He did, however, ask if I knew Alderman Hendrickson’s current phone number; the corporal had called the number he had on file, but had received no response. His email ended with:
“I’d like to interview him and get this case completed. It’s been dragging out for way too long.“
Sitting in my office, looking at the emails and listening to the voicemail, it was now clear that an active investigation was underway. But was it an investigation into Alderman Hendrickson’s alleged embezzlement of his former employer? Or was it something else? The corporal had never directly provided an answer.
A visit to the Springfield Police Department
Seeking the answer, on December 6th, 2022, I visited the Springfield Police Department and submitted a request to see if there was an incident report of a complaint of embezzlement made against him by his former employer.
The older female clerk sitting behind the thick glass tapped on her keyboard for a few seconds. She excused herself and left the front counter for several minutes, and when she returned, she politely informed me that since this was an active investigation, I would only be able to request the incident “reports” for the time being, and not the case file.
“Reports? Plural?” I asked quizzically.
“Yes,” she said. “There are two.”
Surprised, I pulled out my wallet to get $4 (copies of incident reports are $2 apiece), and discovered that I only had a $100 dollar bill. I excused myself and left to go to a nearby gas station to get change. When I returned and paid, she wrote the incident report numbers on the receipt, politely telling me that it could take between three to thirty days before I received a response, although our earlier conversation left me with the impression that it would probably only be a few days.
She was a very pleasant person to work with.
I thanked her and left.
As of January 2nd, 2023, I have not yet received copies of either incident report.
Updated: The incident reports can be found here.
A series of uncomfortable phone calls
On January 1st, 2023, I called each of the aldermen (and spoke with Ryan Simmons via Facebook Messenger) and asked if they were aware of the embezzlement allegation or the ongoing investigation. They were not.
I also asked if they were aware of Alderman Hendrickson’s questionable residency. They were not aware of that either.
Alderman Hendrickson, who I contacted last, returned my call around 10:40 p.m. We chatted politely for a couple of minutes, and then I asked him a series of prepared questions:
“Where were you living when you ran for alderman back in April?”
Alderman Hendrickson said he was living in what was then his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s house in Ward 1.
I’ve since contacted his ex-wife, Kate Campbell. She responded, “I don't really have a solid date on the move out. He would come to the house and sleep a few hours, take stuff he wanted, and then leave again. At least 6 months before that he only spent no more than a night or two a week at the house.”
My next question was, “Are you using a post office box for some reason?”
He said he has had a post office box for mail for five years “give or take”.
And on one of the latter occasions that I checked on his residency, he left City Hall after a lengthy meeting, stopped at the Willard Post Office and (I’m assuming) picked up his mail at 10:50 p.m., and arrived at the home of the former city clerk shortly before 11 p.m.
Next, I asked if he was aware of the embezzlement allegation and investigation.
He responded, “I’m not familiar with any active investigation on anything.” And added later, “First I’m hearing of it.”
In early December, the investigating officer said in an email, “I’ve tried to contact him [via phone], however I haven’t received any responses.” The officer had been calling the same phone number Corey was using to return my call.
Alderman Hendrickson also said that he “had heard all sorts of rumors about [his residency]” and that “My ex-wife is pretty good about that. She’s best friends with [Mayor] Snider apparently. He went to Ken Reynolds, the city attorney…”
I reached out to the mayor for comment via his city email, but haven’t received a response.
Next, I asked Alderman Hendrickson where he was currently living.
“Umm, I rent a room from a friend, uhh,” he paused for a second, “just there on the north side, up by the intermediate school.”
For clarification, I repeated some of his earlier responses back to him and then asked, “You’re not living with Jennifer Rowe?”
“No. She’s a pretty good friend. I keep a truck parked at her house, but,” he paused for a couple of seconds, “there’s nothing there [that hasn’t been] insinuated in the past either.”
I thought back on the times I’d driven by the former clerk’s house on my way to attend the board meetings, and then driven by again after the meetings were over on my way out of town: His vehicle was there before the meetings, his vehicle was driven to the meetings, and his vehicle was at the house again shortly after the meetings were over. Ms. Rowe drove separately.
During the phone call, Alderman Hendrickson remained polite and answered all my questions.
I thanked him, and we wished each other a good night.
A lack of a conclusion
Nothing I’ve stated above should be construed to mean that Alderman Hendrickson is guilty of either embezzlement or of not living in his ward when he was elected in April 2022. Nor should it be construed to mean that former city clerk Jennifer Rowe failed to do her duty as an election official by ignoring Alderman Hendrickson’s residency. But the information presented should raise questions, the answers to which could potentially directly affect the affairs of the City of Willard.
Only two candidates filed to run for Willard mayor by the December 27, 2022 deadline: Mayor Samuel Snider and former city clerk Jennifer Rowe. Over the past seven months that I have been attending board meetings, I have always found both of them to be helpful and likable.
But though I like Mayor Snider, I have not observed in him the same level of knowledge and experience that would seem appropriate from someone who had been an alderman for five years and a mayor for almost two. Alderman Hendrickson, on the other hand, is considerably more knowledgeable — more so, in my opinion, than anyone else on the board. Perhaps Mayor Snider keeps his experience to himself, or perhaps his priorities lie elsewhere. I do not know.
What I do know is that the City of Willard has serious challenges and needs serious leadership. Between needing $30 million dollars (more than 4x the city’s annual budget) to fund maintenance and necessary improvements to the water and sewer system, an ongoing schism between city staff and a majority of the board over what exactly does and does not constitute allowable economic development, the failure of even simple things like a working phone system during emergencies such as the recent cold snap, and other challenges, I have not witnessed much in the way of actual progress on the biggest issues the city faces. As things stand, the existing board and mayor haven’t even been able to work together to agree on a replacement for an open alderman seat that went vacant nearly seven months ago. Instead, they just sort of mutually gave up when Mayor Snider announced he would leave the matter for voters to decide in the April ‘23 election.
I like the mayor, the former clerk (running for mayor), and each of the aldermen — including Alderman Hendrickson. Having been an alderman, I know their job is often thankless and difficult. And several of these gentlemen have dedicated more than a few years of their lives to the task and should be thanked for that. But whatever the source of the distrust between them that I’ve witnessed while attending board meetings, the net result is the same:
It is unfair to the people of Willard, and to those in the surrounding area affected by it.
And it needs to stop.
Addendum for Ms. Rowe
Before publishing the article, I contacted Ms. Rowe via Facebook Messenger to ask for comment. She stated that she “was not aware of an investigation into Alderman Hendrickson.”
Earlier in the day, through an intermediary, she also stated that Alderman Hendrickson has never lived with her, either now or in the past.
Note: A follow-up article about the incident reports can be found here.
Most Recent Update: On October 24, 2023, Alderman Hendrickson resigned and entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors after being charged with stealing nearly $300,000 from 500 drivers at his former employer, Prime Inc. See here.