Mississippi seems to have a misspending problem, audit shows

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: The annual exceptions report by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor details the amount of misappropriated or misspent public funds.

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

The annual exceptions report released by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor is a rogues’ gallery of public servants caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

The report details all of the misappropriated or misspent public funds (plus criminal charges) for the fiscal year that ended on June 30 and what State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office has done to recover the money. The final tally: $1,517,376.61.

An exception in an audit means a violation of the law or an accounting error that results in misspent or misappropriated public funds that have to be repaid.

Here are some of the more egregious offenders:

Scheme was dead on arrival

Former Union County Coroner Mark Golding was hit with a formal demand for more than $398,000 in September after he was accused of filing false invoices for investigating deaths in the county. Golding pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and will serve four years in prison, pay more than $364,000 in restitution and forfeit his state retirement.

Golding was also the first former official convicted of fraud or embezzlement that is subject to Senate Bill 2625 . The law, passed in 2013, prevents the hiring by any government entity in Mississippi of any official that plead guilty or was convicted of those crimes.

Coast of corruption

ON THE REEF: One of the officials involved in the Department of Marine Resources scandal, Kerwin Cuevas, was the director of the state’s artificial reef program.

The scandal in the Biloxi-based Department of Marine Resources was far-reaching, resulting in several indictments and plenty of civil demands. The scandal involved shifting more than $441,000 in DMR funds to a foundation controlled by former DMR Executive Director Bill Walker. His son Scott, who was also involved in a separate case with former D’Iberville City Manager Michael Janus, also was a key figure in the DMR scandal.

Bill Walker

The DMR’s former executive director was hit with a demand for more than $362,000. He pleaded guilty to embezzlement in March and was sentenced to five years in prison, plus three years of supervised release, a $125,000 fine and will have to pay more than $572,000 in restitution, including $210,000 taken from federal funds.

Scott Walker

A former consultant and congressional staffer, Walker pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, three years of supervised release and will have to pay $390,000 in restitution. In a separate case with Janus, he and the former D’Iberville city manager will owe $180,000 to the state after their convictions. Janus was sentenced to 21 months in jail after pleading guilty to one count of fraud.

Sheila Shumate

The former director of the state’s coastal management programs was indicted on six counts of embezzlement and was hit with a demand for more than $127,000. Shumate’s trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 22.

Leslie Young Gollott

A former program manager with the DMR, Gollott was hit with an demand for more than $117,000 on Nov. 7. On May 28, she pleaded guilty to embezzlement.

Kerwin Cuevas

The former director of the state’s artificial reef program might be sunk himself. He was indicted on Nov. 7 on two counts of embezzlement and a demand was issued by the state auditor for the return of more than $108,000. Cuevas’ trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 14.

Trio of demands

PHOTO BY: Mississippi Office of the State Auditor

SAY CHEESE: Shelly Ashley Palmertree’s mugshot from her arrest on embezzlement charges.

Former Warren County Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree was served with a demand for more than $661,000 in March 2013 and another that August for $156,000.

In August 2013, she was indicted and later arrested on two counts of embezzlement. Her trial is scheduled to start in September.

The state auditor served Palmertree another demand, this time for $229,000, for excess fees. She was charged with two counts of embezzlement in August and is scheduled for trial this September.

And here’s the cherry on the scandal sundae. A state auditor investigation in May uncovered that Palmertree doesn’t even live in the county she serves.

That allowed the Warren County Board of Supervisors to declare her office vacant, ending her tenure as circuit clerk.

Surplus of guilt

Five officials in the city of Bassfield, including former Mayor Jerry Holland, two former fire chiefs, the city clerk, a maintenance engineer and a former police officer, purchased 22 items of surplus property and converted it to personal use.

PHOTO BY: Mississippi Office of the State Auditor

CAUGHT: Former Bassfield mayor Jerry Holland was one of five officials convicted in a scandal involving surplus property,

They still owe the state more than $308,000. The property was recovered and the surplus of corruption was ended with guilty pleas in all five cases in 2013.

Since 2008, when Pickering took office, more than $20 million in taxpayer funds have been recovered and more than 24 officials have been removed from office.

No exceptions were taken against statewide elected officials. Also exception free were 23 of the state’s 82 counties.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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