For five years, Clyde Drury III ran the Pierce County Veterans Bureau, in charge of an annual budget as high as $800,000 intended to help homeless veterans.
Since December, the former Air Force senior master sergeant insisted the government checks he was taking every month to a friend were going to help down-and-out vets.
Trouble was, people who checked on the spending couldn’t find the veterans.
All they could find were successive $6,000 checks sent to a business run by a close friend of Drury’s.
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Drury was fired last weekfrom his $68,213 annual position after a county investigation concluded he misspent more than $36,000 collected by a special property tax earmarked for veterans programs. He’s now the subject of a criminal investigation that could compel him to repay the money.
In the letter firing Drury, a lawyer for Pierce County wrote that Drury’s actions were “among the most appalling I have ever encountered.” The News Tribune obtained that and other documents through public records request.
Drury, 57, did not return multiple calls for comment to The News Tribune. He had been suspended with pay on May 11.
In statements to a private investigator hired by the county, he maintained that the money he dished out supported emergency services for troubled veterans.
It was money he claimed the county had authorized with a “handshake deal” to offset the costs of services his friend was providing out of his own pocket.
County officials concluded there was no deal and that any money sent to Drury's friend violated ethics policies.
“You knowingly and willfully directed money to your friends and family knowing there was no evidence of any service ever having been provided, nor any records to support such payments,” wrote Al Rose, an attorney in the county Executive’s Office, in a letter firing Drury. “The fact that you personally benefited from funds that were designated to support our nation’s veterans is truly deplorable and shameful.”
Drury acknowledged he was having personal problems at home and has a tendency to embellish his credentials.
“I make up stories to make things sound the way I would like them to be,” he told the investigator. “I do not have financial difficulties. I guess I have ego problems and like making it sound like I'm the big man.”
A $24,000 amount allegedly spent on housing for homeless veterans was the most expensive example of misconduct identified in the 42-page investigation. It also accuses Drury of not showing up to work, falsifying expense reports, cutting a $6,000 check to a company where his wife worked, and taking donations meant for homeless veterans for his own benefit.
Those donations included grocery store gift cards and prepaid credit cards that appeared to be spent at stores conspicuously close to Drury’s Spanaway home.
The investigation also accuses him of taking a car that a Tacoma resident donated to help an indigent veteran and giving it to his own stepson. Drury said the car was registered in the stepson’s name because the stepson was assisting a disabled veteran as a caregiver.
The Veterans Bureau is a four-person office that administers emergency assistance to veterans and also coordinates the county’s incarcerated veterans reintegration program. Its revenue comes from a property tax that’s expected to raise about $880,000 this year, according to the county budget.
Drury’s co-workers told the investigator they long suspected he rarely worked more than a few hours a week.
He had managed the program since 2010, reporting to Rose in the County Executive’s office.
The office also received oversight from a seven-person advisory council. Greg Gooch of University Place, an Army veteran and member of the council, spurred the investigation into Drury after receiving a complaint from one of Drury’s co-workers in December.
Reached by phone, Gooch said he did not want to comment on Drury until the Sheriff’s Department completes its investigation.
“We took a look at what had been alleged, found there was sufficient information to bring it to the Pierce County authorities, and they have taken appropriate action,” he said.
The county had not received an accusation of financial misconduct in the Veterans Bureau until May, when Gooch sent a complaint to the County Executive’s office. Another Veterans Bureau employee also verbally complained to the county Human Resources office.
Pierce County Budget and Finance Director Gary Robinson on Friday said a complaint has been forwarded to the state auditor’s office for further investigation.
Drury served in the Air Force for 26 years, retiring in 2001 out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane as a senior noncommissioned officer, according to Air Force personnel records.
During his time in uniform, he received an Air Force achievement medal, two commendation medals and five meritorious service medals, according to the Air Force.
He settled in Pierce County after leaving the military, launching a janitorial business and also working for several years at Tacoma’s Metropolitan Development Council.
He began taking a higher profile in the veterans community after he joined the county workforce in 2010. He spoke at government meetings and characterized himself as a friend to the homeless in interviews with The Ranger newspaper.
“I talk to service organizations, mostly the American Legion and VFWs and tell them what I'm up to. I give a talk and next thing you know somebody that was in the audience comes up and says he'd like to buy a mobile home or donate a car,” he told The Ranger in 2012.
He also did some side work for VerticalPath Recruiting, a Kent firm that tries to find work for military veterans. A co-owner of the company said Drury has had no relationship with Vertical Path for several years.
Drury’s biography remains at the company’s website, where it says he had a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Pacific Lutheran University and a bachelor’s degree from Saint Martins University. He does not have either of those degrees, according to the universities.
The VerticalPath biography and his statements to The Ranger were cited in the county investigation.
Drury told investigators he did not have the degrees that were listed in the VerticalPath resume and he said he sometimes exaggerates his military service.
County officials told Drury to shut down his private business, Drury Enterprize, when he went to work for local government. He told officials he closed down the company but retained its business license.
The county investigator concluded that the business appeared to be open. County employees found fliers for the company in Drury’s office as well as what appeared to be bid documents.
One flier listed a close friend of Drury’s as the company’s sales manager. That’s the same close friend who began receiving $6,000 checks every month in December to help homeless veterans.
His undoing came when his co-workers in the Veterans Bureau grew uncomfortable with the checks he was requesting for his friend’s company. Drury would hand-deliver them to his friend.
Drury told investigators he was not thinking clearly when he made the arrangement because of illnesses in his family.
“I was not paying my bills or tracking anything the Veterans Bureau staff brought to my attention,” he said. “I was lost.”