State auditor details nearly $1 million embezzlement case at community college

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Aallyah Wright, Mississippi Today

State Auditor Shad White, (center) addresses media representatives and Clarksdale residents regarding a year long embezzlement investigation of former Coahoma Community College employees. Mississippi District Attorney Brenda Mitchell stands beside him.

CLARKSDALE – After a year-long investigation, the state auditor’s office is demanding that two former Coahoma Community College employees repay nearly $1 million in what the office is calling one of the largest individual embezzlement cases in more than 20 years.

State Auditor Shad White announced the findings during a news conference held at the Coahoma County Courthouse on Monday afternoon. He said the alleged embezzlement scheme was hard to catch because it was a conspiracy between multiple people and the doctoring of the college’s books to cover their tracks.

In a statement released to Mississippi Today, Marriel Hardy, Chief Communications Officer for CCC said the institution immediately terminated those individuals involved and immediately notified its board of trustees and the appropriate agencies/authorities.

“The institution will make a conscientious effort to recover all monies that were taken from CCC. The College has implemented enhanced accountability controls in order to decrease the likelihood of these unfortunate behaviors happening in the future,” said Hardy.

Between 2013 and 2017, Gwendolyn Jefferson and Stacie Neal, who worked in the purchasing department, used multiple government procurement cards to purchase gift cards from the local Kroger and Wal-Mart and Amazon to “do whatever they wanted with them,” said White.

White said the pair also bought watches, shoes, a chandelier and other items which totaled to $750,000 in purchases. The final tab, $981,600 – the largest individual demand coming from the auditor’s office in the last five years and the third largest individual demand over 20 years – includes principal, interest, and investigative costs.

Case files were delivered to the Brenda Mitchell, the district attorney of the Mississippi 11th Circuit Court District, on Monday and the fate of the two former employees will be left up to her. Mitchell’s jurisdiction includes Bolivar, Coahoma, Quitman, and Tunica counties.

White’s office issued demands for repayment to Jefferson and Neal on Friday. In a phone call with Mississippi Today, district attorney Mitchell, said the next step their office will take is to review the file and determine the appropriate charges and present the case to a grand jury.

Since the case is such as large file – over 100 documents – it won’t be ready by the time the grand jury meets in December, she added.

“If you are out there and you are running a local government agency, if you’re running a state agency, if you’re running a business, you have to make sure in your offices that multiple different people are doing different functions inside of purchasing,” said White.

“We do audits, but typically corruption in America is not caught by audits. It’s caught by tips and whistle blowers and that’s exactly what happened in this case.”

White, who previously worked for Gov. Phil Byrant, was appointed in July as state auditor.