JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Special Agents from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor arrested two former employees of the City of Moss Point, Kenya Bowens and Lakeshia Benton, after both were indicted for embezzlement by a grand jury assembled by outgoing District Attorney for the 19th District Anthony “Tony” Lawrence.
At the time of arrest agents issued Bowens and Benton separate demand letters for over $30,000 cumulatively, which includes interest and investigative costs.
The former city employees are accused of collecting cash payments from individuals paying water bill fines and later voiding the transaction receipts for fine payment. The two employees would then embezzle the fines they collected. They concealed the cash collected from the fines in paper to take the cash from their office and met outside of work, after hours, to split the money. Bowens and Benton were caught when a supervisor noticed and reported an odd number of voided transactions authorized by the pair. Records indicate Bowens is responsible for $11,840.11, and Benton is responsible for $1,912.89 of improperly altered transactions. The embezzlement took place from March 2015 to August 2016.
“This case is another example of how conspiracies, where two or more people work together to conceal a crime, can be difficult to catch and can result in big losses for taxpayers. The way to prevent those kinds of conspiracies is what we call separation of duties—having more than just one or two people handling the money that comes into an organization.” said State Auditor Shad White.
Bowens and Benton were each covered by $50,000 surety bonds during employment at the City of Moss Point. Surety bonds function as an insurance policy for taxpayers against embezzlement and fraud by public officials. The bonds improve the chance for taxpayers to recover public money that has been stolen.
“We will continue to enforce the law and put those who steal taxpayers’ money behind bars,” said White. “You do not work in government for your personal benefit. You work for the people.”
The maximum penalty for each is a $5,000 fine or 20 years in prison. All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Suspicious activity involving potential fraud or embezzlement can be reported online or by calling the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor at 1-(800)-321-1275.