Journey to the Earl Scruggs continued – Pt 3

SBI Investigation Of Embezzlement At The Cleveland County Historical Museum

Even though the courthouse building closes by the middle of April, The Star writes nothing about the closing until May 22, 2004. This article tells that the SBI was called in to investigate county museum finances when the bank called the county in April about the use of money in the associations account. Release stated that the museum is being refurbished, and association personnel went on indefinite, unpaid leave and closed the museum. Cleveland County District Attorney Bill Young names embezzlement as an example of the type of financial crime to be examined in the case.

After more than a year-long investigation of embezzlement, a museum assistant is arrested in September 2005 and accused by a Cleveland County grand jury of stealing $200,000 between 1999 and December 2004.

On Tuesday, April 3, 2007, the former museum assistant pleaded guilty to five counts of felony larceny in Superior Court. She was ordered to repay $90,000 restitution to the county. Evidence showed the she would write checks by signing the museum director’s name.

In January 2008, the former museum employee was taken into custody to serve anywhere between 19 and 24 total months. By pleading guilty, she avoided having the case go to a jury trial. She served her time in a state prison in Raleigh.

County Officials Knew The Historical Museum And Artifacts Were Not Abandoned

On April 26, 2003, at the Merry-Go-Round Festival, when Jim Allen announced his group’s plans for the Southern Music Heritage Museum to be a part of the Cleveland County Historical Museum at the old courthouse, the Cleveland County Historical Museum was still open.

As the group held their first formal meeting on February 24, 2004 to brainstorm and formulate their plans, the museum was still open.

The museum closed just before the next Merry-Go-Round Festival was held on April 24, 2004. Bobbi Gibson, widow of Don Gibson, and Earl Scruggs and his wife Louise were in Shelby that weekend to be honored at the awards ceremony for the Merry-Go-Round Festival held in Hamilton Hall at First National Bank. They visited the recently closed Cleveland County Historical Museum.

It is evident that County Attorney Bob Yelton was aware of Jim Allen’s intent to reopen the museum, since he was the attorney who formed the North Carolina Southern Music Heritage Alliance, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) on July 27, 2004 for Jim Allen and his group and Bob Yelton is listed as the agent for the corporation.

An article in The Star on January 1, 2005 tells that the Southern Music Heritage Museum plans are gaining more momentum. It says Don Gibson’s widow, Bobbi Gibson and Earl Scruggs and his wife, Louise are thrilled with the proposal. Earl Scruggs and his wife and their career advisor have given a letter of intent to be on board with the Southern Music Heritage Museum. It states that Jim Allen and his group members have taken trips to Nashville recently to discuss the museum idea with Don Gibson’s widow. The article says the old courthouse is currently the home to the Cleveland County Historical Museum which has been temporarily closed so it can be refurbished.

On February 13, 2005 The Star published a two page article about the Earl Scruggs/Don Gibson Southern Heritage Music Center’s plans for using some of the space in the Cleveland County Historical Museum. The article tells that group members made their case to commissioners during the board’s planning retreat in January. Commissioners responded favorably. Commissioner Chairman Ronnie Hawkins said in a later interview he encourages them to keep moving forward. Cleveland County is so blessed with good people and good location and if we can make it available for people to come and see our heritage, it would be great, he said.

On April 13, 2005 County Manager David Dear signed the check for the county to pay for $1,500 to The Design Minds, Inc. of Lorton, Virginia for the initial design work for the Southern Music Heritage Museum. Lonny Schwartz, from The Design Minds, Inc., said he came to Shelby to meet with Jim Allen several times about the designs and ate at a local diner near the courthouse. He said Jim Allen, David Dear, and J.T. Scruggs all got copies of the plans.

In an April 21, 2005 letter County Manager David Dear responded to an April 15, 2005 letter from Betty J. Logan of Charlotte who inquired about the closed Cleveland County Historical Museum. Mr. Dear assured Ms. Logan that museum would be reopened, but “we have no exact date as to when.”

The County powers were definitely on board with Jim Allen and his group for the Southern Music Heritage Museum. But when the decision was made by some members of Jim Allen’s group to honor Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson in separate buildings, the County Commissioners made a resolution to support the newly formed Destination Cleveland County.

All the while, the artifacts were still in the historical museum awaiting renovations to the building so it could be reopened. Money was not allocated by the County Commissioners to renovate the building, until they agreed to give Destination Cleveland County $1.5 million to renovate it.

The County Commissioners did not bother to follow the legal channels of terminating the lease agreement with the Cleveland County Historical Museum that states that the lease may be terminated by one or both of the parties. Either party may terminate by giving the other party six (6) months written notice, or this lease may be terminated sooner by mutual consent in writing.

The County Commissioners gave Destination Cleveland County access to the artifacts that had been given unconditionally to the Cleveland County Historical Museum, Inc. and were the property of that museum. The County claimed them as abandoned in their building. The County has no paperwork to support this claim. The County Commissioners did not follow the legal procedure by notifying the Cleveland County Historical Museum, Inc., of their intention of claiming the artifacts if they were not removed from the premises of their building.

Jim Allen was the agent of the Cleveland County Historical Association, Inc. that formed in 1965 and amended its name to the Cleveland County Historical Museum, Inc. in 1992, and he was still the agent at the time of his death in September 2012.

Did the County Commissioners commit grand theft by illegally claiming the property of the Cleveland County Historical Museum?

County Commissioners Vote Unanimously To Lease Courthouse To Destination Cleveland County For The Earl Scruggs Center

The County Commissioners vote is unanimous to lease the Historic Courthouse to Destination Cleveland County for the Earl Scruggs Center- Songs and Stories of the Carolina Foothills.

In their support of the Earl Scruggs Center, Commissioner Chair Mary Accor said the old museum was “just ugh!” Commissioner Ronnie Hawkins said the old museum was “horrible.” And “that is why the doors have been padlocked.” Commissioner Johnny Hutchins said, “Up until after lunch, I still had not decided which way to go.” However, at a Town Hall Meeting he said “when we sign the lease,” not if we sign the lease, indicating that his mind was already made up.

DCC is not required to put up a bond or make a deposit, as is usually required in cases like this.


In an editorial on March 20, 2008, The Star takes a kinder and fairer approach to the citizens who opposed Destination Cleveland County, now that DCC has succeeded in getting the lease for the use of the Historic Courthouse for the Earl Scruggs Center.

Skip Foster agreed that the group opposing DCC’s plans brought up some good questions in the months leading up to the Commissioners vote and agreed that because of their heartfelt devotion to courthouse and Cleveland County’s history, the group acted out of passion and love for Cleveland County and its history, not out of malice.