State Auditor: Pelahatchie misspent $500,000 in seized drug fund - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

State Auditor: Pelahatchie misspent $500,000 in seized drug funds

State Auditor: Pelahatchie misspent $500,000 in seized drug funds. Source: Pelahatchie.Org State Auditor: Pelahatchie misspent $500,000 in seized drug funds. Source: Pelahatchie.Org
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) -

State Auditor Stacey Pickering says the town of Pelahatchie misspent nearly $500,000 in seized drug funds. 

Special agents with the State Auditor's office delivered civil demands to several current and former officials with in the Rankin County town.

According to the Auditor's office, drug seizure funds, which are required to be used for law enforcement purposes, were misspent by the town. 

Two demands were issued Monday for a total of $502,363.07.

The Auditor's office lists several illegal transfers discovered after an OSA investigation. 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

The State Auditor's office says 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 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.

“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," said Pickering. "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.”

Pelahatchie Mayor Ryshonda Beechem released a statement through her attorney saying: 

Mayor Ryshonda Beechem's first day in office was July 1, 2017. In the days that followed, the City Clerk presented the Mayor with checks to sign on behalf of the City, indicating that they needed to be signed right away because 'bills were due' and that the Board had 'already approved the expenditures at the board meeting.' The Mayor was initially under the impression that this was normal procedure, and signed what she understood to be checks for the City's bills for July and August, 2017.

Shortly thereafter, the Mayor became suspicious as to the City's bookkeeping methods, and also took notice of the 'drug fund account.' The Mayor researched and found the relevant Mississippi statute dealing with how seized monies were to be spent, and showed it to the board members. In response, the Board refused to change their practices. In September 2017, the Pelahatchie City Attorney provided the Mayor with a copy of a research memo he prepared which concluded that, in his opinion, "All money disbursed or used from the Police Seizure Fund, was done so properly, and in accordance with State and Federal Law." The Mayor resisted, stating the usage of the drug fund account in this manner appears to violate the law.

When the Board and City Clerks continued to request the Mayor to sign checks of this nature, she contacted the State Auditor for clarification on the issues. She was instructed to contact investigations at that point. The Mayor complied with all requests made of her by the State Auditor's office relative to the investigation.

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