8/13/2014 6:00:00 AM PERRY/Auditor details misspending
By BRIAN PERRY
State Auditor Stacey Pickering released last month the annual "Audit Exceptions Report" detailing violations "of the law or an accounting error [that] has resulted in a misappropriations or an incorrect expenditure of public funds." Pickering's office recovered more than $1.5 million in fiscal year 2014. Incidents occurred in 50 of Mississippi's 82 counties.
"We continue to protect the public's trust through evaluations of accounting practices and aggressive investigations of alleged wrongdoing. We believe the taxpayers of Mississippi deserve no less," Pickering said in the release.
County audits in ten counties (Clarke, George, Kemper, Lincoln, Marshall, Oktibbeha, Scott, Stone, Union, Winston) recovered $139,300 from chancery clerks or circuit clerks who exceeded the fee cap or reported disallowed expenditures.
The report details missing state property, sometimes minor items involving values below five dollars. The Property Division identified 40 exceptions involving employees of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (DSU, JSU, USM, MVSU, MSU, UMMC Foundation), Department of Education and Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks for an average of $590 per incident. When removing one claim of missing equipment from Delta State, that average drops to less than $245 with over half involving matters of less than $50.
All the county audit and state property items were "paid in full and settled to the appropriate entity."
The meat of the report comes from the Investigations Law Enforcement Division of the Auditor's Office which "issued twenty-nine formal demands for $2,899,208.53 and nine informal demands for a total of #22,247.99 and recovered misspent or embezzled funds totaling $1,354,437.15."
This section of the report includes a number of cases which made headlines across the state.
Former Southaven Mayor Greg Davis is appealing the Hinds County Chancery Court order to repay the $73,915 balance of his $181,815 demand as well as his criminal sentence of ten years in prison (2.5 to serve / 7.5 probation) and restitution.
Twelve individuals are named as a result of the investigation into the Department of Marine Resources on charges of misuse of public funds, embezzlement, fraud or conspiracy. The top demands issued were to former executive director Bill Walker ($362,689), former chief of staff Joe Ziegler ($258,268) as well as jointly and severally former City of D'Iberville manager Michael Janus and consultant (and Walker's son) Scott Walker ($180,000). Seven of the individuals named have entered guilty pleas and two are scheduled for trial.
Richard Hall, convicted of one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering in federal court and three counts of mail fraud in state court relating to the failed Mississippi Beef Processors plant in Yalobusha County paid nearly $50,000 to the state in FY14 and maintains a balance of almost half-a-million dollars. James Draper, also convicted in the beef plant scandal, paid a little over $12,000 to the state this past year and has about that much left yet to pay.
Shelly Ashley-Palmertree, who was removed as circuit clerk by the Warren County Board of Supervisors, faces three demands totaling over a million dollars and is facing trial on two counts of embezzlement.
A number of cases in the report involved demands of more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars to individuals, some of which has been repaid.
Itawamba County Chancery Clerk James Witt faces a $503,246 demand for misappropriation of funds.
Following a conviction for theft of federal funds, engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity and tax evasion, former Jefferson County Circuit Clerk maintains a balance due to the state of $547,033.
Former Jones County Deputy Chancery Clerk Natalie Brooke Ward has paid a third of her $307,000 demand following her guilty plea for embezzlement. Former Meridian principal Judy Radcliff still owes $235,000 following her plea to conspiracy. Former Union County Coroner Mark Golding must pay $363,484 to Union County and $34,933 to the Office of the State Auditor following his fraud conviction.
Former Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Harvey Franklin, and President of Teach Them To Read Edna Goble face together $1,201,247 in restitution for a scheme involving Goble paying bribes and kickbacks to Franklin.
Municipal elected officials are also named in the report including Hazlehurst Alderman Frank Jones ($391) and Alderwoman Shirley Sandifer ($418.54), Belzoni aldermen Johnny Page ($1,867) and Charles Thurman ($4,500) as well as former Mayor Wardell Walton ($2,176), Hickory Mayor Tommy Nichols ($22,286), and former Bassfield Mayor Jerry Holland who is jointly and severally liable for $309,228 in a scheme involving five other city officials who "purchased surplus property and converted it to personal use."
Not all the exceptions were purposeful - some were honest mistakes and those cited repay the amount of their error and the case is closed. This annual account helps keep the honest people mindful of their responsibility to taxpayers, while shining the light of prosecution on those who would purposefully rob the public treasury.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at email@example.com or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.