JACKSON, Miss. – Today, special agents from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor (OSA) delivered civil demands to several current and former officials in the Town of Pelahatchie. Drug seizure funds, which are required to be used for law enforcement purposes, were misspent by the Town. Two demands were issued for a total $502,363.07, which includes interest and investigative costs.
Mississippi law requires the transfer of all funds received through the forfeiture proceedings under the Uniform Controlled Substance Law into the budget of the corresponding law enforcement agency. A review of Pelahatchie’s Forfeiture Account shows this transfer did not occur. After an OSA investigation, several illegal transfers were discovered. Some of the illegal transfers relate to:
• Transfers to the Town’s Enterprise Account (Utility Account)
• Transfers to the Town’s Special Fire Fund
• Transfers made to prevent overdraft in the regular Town checking account
• Transfers to pay salaries of non-police department employees
• Transfers to pay for items not associated with the Pelahatchie Police Department in any way
In Mississippi, asset forfeiture has a dual purpose of discouraging drug trafficking and providing a direct benefit to law enforcement agencies across the State. The goal of asset forfeiture is to provide police departments with additional funds to spend on equipment, additional training, officer overtime payment, and salary to hire new officers. The intent is to provide citizens with a better equipped and more qualified police department.
The first demand, totaling $421,688.10, represents the period of January 2015 to June 2017. It was issued to: former mayor, Knox Ross, Jr.; former alderman, Jerry Norwood; former alderwoman, Megan Hall; former city clerk, Bettye Massey; current alderman, Frank Boyd; current alderman, Michael Adams; and current alderwoman, Margie Warren. All recipients of this demand are jointly responsible for its repayment.
The second demand, totaling $80,694.97, represents the period from July 2017 to December 2017. It was issued to: former city clerk, Bettye Massey; current mayor, Ryshonda Beechem; current alderman, Eddie Jones; current alderman, Frank Boyd; current alderman, James Harrell; current alderman, Michael Adams; current alderwoman, Margie Warren. All recipients of this demand are jointly responsible for its repayment.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering said, “For years, the leadership of Pelahatchie abused these funds by attempting to use them to enhance the overall city budget when they were mandated to be allocated to the Pelahatchie Police Department. OSA will continue to work to assist local governments when questions regarding proper use of public funds arise, but we will also ensure that misspent money is recovered on behalf of Mississippians.”