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Fighting corruption for taxpayers

By Shad White

When I was first appointed State Auditor in July 2018, I was determined to chase down fraud, theft, and embezzlement from you, the taxpayers. In that time, I am proud of the work the law enforcement team at the auditor’s office has done and how much we have recovered.

As we move further into 2021, it’s a good time to update you on some of the local cases that my investigators have been working on to help protect your money.

In late February, the now-former Mayor of Moss Point Mario King and his wife Natasha each pleaded guilty to one federal charge of wire fraud.

The Kings devised a scheme to defraud people who donated to a gala they planned in the spring of 2019. This gala, according to Mayor King, was supposed to benefit mental health counseling at the Moss Point School District. Instead, the Kings used some of the money for their own personal gain, including a down payment on a vehicle, cash withdrawals, and the purchase of a pedigreed pet dog.

I personally received the whistleblower tip that started this investigation and assigned an agent in my office to the case. We then worked closely with federal authorities to bring the case to a conclusion. Just before pleading guilty, Mayor King resigned his position as Mayor as part of the plea agreement. The Kings are scheduled to be sentenced on May 26, 2021, and face up to five years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

In a separate case, several weeks ago, we arrested former member of the Pearl River County Crimestoppers (PRCCS) Michelle McBride for embezzlement. Investigators showed McBride used the PRCCS debit card for personal expenses like attending rodeos and transferred PRCCS funds to fraudulent non-profit bank accounts she controlled. McBride allegedly used her position to embezzle over $52,000 from PRCCS from January 2014 to April 2019.

In January, Colleen Ladnier, a former Jackson County deputy tax collector, was arrested and charged with embezzlement. She is accused of intentionally overcharging residents for vehicle license tags and pocketing the extra cash.

The auditor’s office was alerted when security camera footage from the tax collector’s office showed Ladnier stuffing recently-collected cash into her shirt. According to the indictment, the embezzlement took place between October and December of 2019.

One more case from Harrison County took place in 2019, but I do have an update on the recovery of your money. On July 15, 2019, a formal written demand letter was issued to former assistant tax collector Denise Gill. On February 26, 2020, Gill was sentenced to two years in the MDOC Intensive Supervision Program followed by three years of post-release supervision. To date, the demand amount of $19,821.50 has been paid back in full.

So often, the effort put in by the law enforcement officers and investigators in the auditor’s office happens out of view of the cameras and press, but I could not be more thankful for their invaluable work. Their efforts are crucial when it comes to safeguarding public funds and ensuring that those who choose to break the law are held accountable.

As I made clear when I took this job, protecting your tax dollars is my highest priority. And as long as I am your State Auditor, my team and I will continue to make sure that happens.

You deserve a team that works just as hard to protect your money as you worked to earn it in the first place. That is what we aim to do.

 

Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi