RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - Pelahatchie Mayor Ryshonda Beechem’s latest court filing sends a message to members of the town’s board of aldermen: follow the law or the court will remove you from office.
Whether that actually happens, however, still remains to be seen.
The 39-page court document, filed in Rankin County Circuit Court Friday by Beechem through her attorney, details more than $1.1 million missing from the town’s coffers, implicating current and former aldermen, a former mayor and a former town clerk in the process.
The petition lists 44 different transactions from January 2015 to September 2017, withdrawals from the Pelahatchie Police Department’s drug seizure fund.
Forty of those took place before Beechem became mayor, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also claims the current and former aldermen committed twenty different violations of state law -- mostly financial.
The suit states that aldermen illegally withdrew money from the town’s drug seizure fund and propped up the town’s finances with it.
In a phone interview with 3 On Your Side Monday, Ward 3 Alderman Margie Warren confirms that practice has happened.
“We borrowed money from the fund and when we had it to put back, we put it back. We knew we were trying to stay afloat by borrowing from one to pay the other," Warren said. “When we got the money from our taxes and stuff, they would put the money back into that account.”
When asked if aldermen made those withdrawals without the public’s knowledge, as the lawsuit alleges, Warren said: “That could have happened. I don’t recall that.”
Beechem also claims Warren -- as mayor pro tempore -- “constantly and consistently” overstepped her duties to effectively serve as mayor in instances where Beechem herself was sometimes absent.
Warren said that’s not true, explaining people would sometimes reach out to her after trying repeatedly to call the mayor.
In one instance, Warren said she called Beechem on their behalf to get Beechem to follow through.
3 On Your Side also asked her about another allegation, that aldermen were taking that money and paying themselves.
The lawsuit pointed to former town clerk Bettye Massey’s $82,000 salary for a town of nearly 1,400 as an example of that.
Before a voluntary salary cut, Warren said she made $535 as pro tempore, and the aldermen have never paid themselves more than the $500 a month they once made.
“We were trying to do everything we could to meet debts. I’d stake my life on it. This board has never raised its salary or taken anything,” Warren said.
3 On Your Side reached out to Beechem for comment on the filing.
She referred our request to her attorney, Thomas Bellinder.