The Office of State Auditor released its annual exceptions report this week. The auditor’s office staff recovered more than $1.5 million in fiscal 2019 and issued 64 demands for more than $4.6 million.
The report outlines funds from misappropriations by government officials from either violations of the law or accounting errors. The 64 demands issued by the auditor’s office were 24 more than last year.
“The Office of the State Auditor continues to serve as a watchdog organization to ensure that tax dollars are protected,” said Auditor Shad White. “We pledge to perform our jobs with integrity, honesty and a commitment to excellence. We continue to protect the public’s trust through evaluations of accounting practices and aggressive investigations of alleged wrongdoing.”
Taxpayers are owed more than $13.5 million in unpaid civil demand letters by governmental officials issued by auditor’s office.
If the official doesn’t pay the requested amount, the auditor can take the case to a local district attorney or the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. Public officials are required to have a surety bond to protect taxpayers and the auditor’s office can recover part of the demand from the bonding firm.
The report also details previous cases dealt with by the auditor’s office and the disposition of funds. The auditor’s office can issue demand letters to government officials responsible for misappropriated funds after an investigation concludes.
Among the cases the auditor’s office pursued in fiscal 2019 include:
- Town of Bay Springs— Former city clerk Randy James received a demand letter for $325,561 and the bond company has repaid $60,000, leaving a balance of $265,561.
- Town of Coldwater— Former town clerk George Nangah was served a demand for $302,973 on January 17 and signed a plea deal for one count of wire fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi on April 29. No payment has been received and state charges are still pending.
- Town Creek Water Board — The auditor’s office issued demands to eight board members totaling $523,032. James Robinson ($85,877), Jim Bucy ($88,100), Jim Long ($11,797), the late John Morgan Jr. ($103,040), Kenneth Oswalt ($95,625), Luther Oswalt ($23,565), Michael Pannell ($90,810) and Teresa Winters ($24,323) received demands and no payments have been received.
- Holmes County Board of Supervisors— Supervisor Eddie Carthan was issued a demand for $184,184 on April 17 and no payments have been received.
- Warren County Tax Assessor’s Office — Former bookkeeper Paula Hunt was indicted for embezzlement and issued a demand for $165,329. No payments have been received.
- Humphreys County — Chancery Clerk Lawrence Browder was issued a demand in 2014 for $143,306 for exceeding the fee cap($90,000 according to state law). On January 10, he was indicted on count of fraudulent statements and representations and the auditor’s office issued a demand letter for $279,764 on January 14. No payment has been received.
- Oloh Volunteer Fire Department — Former secretary Jessica Delancey was issued a demand for $100,294. The bond company paid $50,000 and a balance remains of $50,294.
- Wayne County Sheriff’s Department — Sheriff Joseph Ashley was sent a demand for $53,554 and no payment has been received.
- Mississippi Board of Animal Health— Former director of accounting Chris Smith was served a demand for $33,892. Payment was issued by the bond company for $25,000, leaving a balance of $8,892.
- City of Moss Point — Utility supervisor Kenya Bowens and Lakeshia Benton were both indicted on single counts of embezzlement. On January 11, Benton was issued a demand of $4,218, while Bowens received one for $26,350 and both were paid by the bond company.
- City of Pascagoula — Former city manager Robert Huffman was issued a demand on May 31 for $6,819, which has been paid.
- Mississippi Attorney General’s Office— Former investigator Kelly Edgar was issued a demand for $6,188 on January 8 and payment was received in full.
- Harrison County School District— Former bookkeeper Rita Franke was issued a demand for misappropriation of funds on April 30 for $4,990 and no payments yet received.
- Mississippi Department of Health — Former environmentalist Willie Anderson was indicted on single counts of embezzlement and fraud on January 24. He was served a demand for $2,009 and no payments have been received.