Note: The following opinion-editorial article is provided by State Auditor Shad White recapping his office’s activities in the past year affecting North Mississippi.
By Shad White
As your State Auditor, it is my job to hold accountable those who choose to steal or misuse your hard-earned taxpayer money. I also need to report my results to you, my bosses. I wanted to update you on some of the recent cases in North Mississippi.
In Alcorn County, former school superintendent Bill Brand has pleaded guilty to false representations to defraud the government. Brand was indicted and arrested in August of 2021 after it was discovered that he falsified student attendance records and used another employee’s computer account to falsify attendance records to the Mississippi Department of Education. The falsification of records was an attempt to increase the funding provided by the state to the school district.
In August 2023, former Alcorn County Tax Collector Larry Ross pleaded guilty to false representations to defraud the government. Ross is guilty of creating a false bill of sale for a motor vehicle to lower the tax burden for an Alcorn County resident. Ross was ordered to immediately resign from the Alcorn County Tax Collector’s Office and remove his name from the ballot.
In April 2023, former City Clerk of Farmington Debora Jackson was indicted on two counts of embezzlement. She is accused of turning in fraudulent time cards, using sick/vacation leave that she did not have, and calculating overtime that was not in accordance with the Federal Labor Standards Act. In May, Jackson was issued a formal demand of $36,183.30, which has been paid in full and returned to the city. Jackson’s trial is pending.
In March 2023, the former Town Clerk of Hickory Flat Stephanie Churchill pleaded guilty to embezzlement in Benton County. She embezzled Water and Sewage Department funds by not depositing the funds collected from bills collected from October 2018 through February 2021. A demand letter in the amount of $104,256.92 was presented to Churchill upon her arrest. The Auditor’s Office recovered $50,000 from a surety bond company and returned it to Hickory Flat taxpayers. Surety bonds are like insurance for the taxpayers in case money is stolen. Churchill was ordered to pay $55,850.42 in restitution and other court fees.
The individuals who commit these crimes have negatively affected you, along with your friends and neighbors who live in Mississippi. I am committed to doing my part to hold these people liable for their actions. From the smallest case to the largest one, any amount of money and resources stolen from the taxpayers is too much. My office will continue to work to hold crooks accountable. We do not have the power to charge people with a crime after we uncover wrongdoing, but prosecutors do. And working with prosecutors, we will continue to get results for the taxpayers.
Often the Auditor’s Office identifies things that have gone wrong in government, like the cases above. It’s also nice to recognize when folks in government do well, too. So we created the Mississippi Public Innovations and Efficiencies (PIE) Award in 2022. It’s meant to recognize government offices for the ways they are cutting costs, reducing waste, or improving efficiency in the workplace.
In its first year, we highlighted the Vicksburg-Warren School District, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and the City of Cleveland. We would like to reward the efforts of your community also. If you would like your local government office to be recognized for the frugal, smart strategies that are saving taxpayer money, please encourage them to complete an application for the PIE Award. More information about the PIE can be found on our website, www.osa.ms.gov.
Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi.