Pelahatchie's Mayor speaks out about misspent drug seizure funds - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Pelahatchie's Mayor speaks out about misspent drug seizure funds

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
PELAHATCHIE, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering says several current and former officials in the Town of Pelahatchie have 30 days to pay back $500,000 in misspent drug forfeiture funds.

The town's mayor Ryshonda Beechem is included in the group and she is speaking out for the first time.

“We have to start doing things the right way," said Mayor Beechem. "I am glad I am in this position.”

Sitting next to her attorney, Mayor Beechem told the media she had no idea the town's leadership was misspending drug forfeiture funds. While the mayor did admit to signing some checks after being elected back in July. She claims she was told they were for the town's bills.

“As a new mayor and walking into this situation in a month and a half, I was under the impression people abide by the law," added the mayor. "I have no other reason to justify that until the second month in realizing I was being asked to sign something I know was illegal.”

Earlier this week, State Auditor Stacey Pickering delivered civil demands to more than a dozen current and former Pelahatchie officials. He says instead of them spending $500,000 on police and law enforcement resources, they were spending the drug seizure money on everything from employee salaries to utilities.

Beechem says when she found out the funds were being about, she went to the board, but nothing was done, that’s when she contacted the state auditor's office.

“In my opinion, the most frustrating thing would be to follow the law and have to face a little repercussion over it.”

Pickering says Beechem will be held jointly liable because she signed checks that removed money from the town’s drug seizure fund, which were not for the use of the Pelahatchie Police Department.  He says there no exception under the law that would remove Mayor Beechem from liability. 

Beechem’s Attorney Thomas Bellinder disagrees.

“As for all my clients I just want justice to be done," said Thomas Bellinder. "There is an argument to be made that this investigation wouldn't have happened, but for her stepping up and taking responsibility and saying something is not right here.” 

According to officials with the state auditor’s office, if the funds are not repaid by each recipient in 30 days, the case will be referred to the Attorney General’s Office for civil litigation where a court will decide payment proceedings.

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.

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