Aberdeen mayor charged with embezzlement

 HOWARD
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
DTL Editor

The mayor of a northeast Mississippi city is facing multiple felony charges after being arrested on Thursday.

State Auditor Shad White announced yesterday that agents from his office have arrested Aberdeen Mayor Maurice Howard after he was indicted for five counts of embezzlement by a grand jury assembled by District Attorney John Weddle.
A press release from the auditor’s office said a demand letter worth $11,649.34 was delivered to Howard at the time of his arrest.

White’s office said Howard is accused of embezzling city funds meant to pay for travel expenses related to city business.

According to a media release from the auditor’s office, Howard sought and was paid advance checks for attending meetings and conferences on behalf of the city of Aberdeen but then failed to actually attend the events.

“By depositing the checks into his personal bank account and not returning the unused money, Howard allegedly stole nearly $3,500 from Aberdeen taxpayers,” the release states.

Investigators also allege Howard used a city vehicle for personal travel.

In addition to this, they found Howard should repay the city for providing hotel rooms and conference registration fees the mayor never used.

This part of the demand is worth over $2,000 and is not part of the criminal allegations against him.

As part of the announcement, White said politicians should not lie to the voters about working on their behalf when they are not nor should they lie in order to financially benefit at the same time.

“This is a breach of the trust that the voters put in our elected officials, and the Mayor must be held accountable,” White said. “Thank you to our excellent team of investigators who uncovered this scheme and put a stop to it.”

Howard was arrested by special agents and transported to the Monroe County Detention Center.

He was released from custody after posting a $10,000 bond.

If convicted on all counts, Howard faces up to $25,000 in fines and 100 years in prison, White’s office said.

Conviction would also prevent him from holding public office.

The case will be prosecuted by District Attorney Weddle.

A $100,000 surety bond covers Howard’s time as mayor of the city of Aberdeen, which is similar to insurance designed to protect taxpayers from corruption. Howard will remain liable for the full amount of the demand in addition to criminal proceedings.

TRAVEL TROUBLES

In response to reporting by the Daily Times Leader, the Aberdeen Board of Aldermen in April 2018 voted unanimously to turn questions about Howard’s use of his city-owned vehicle over to the state Attorney General, state Auditor Stacey Pickering and the state Ethics Commission.

Copies of the article were sent by aldermen to all three offices, plus District Attorney John Weddle, for investigation into potential violations.

According to city records previously obtained by the Daily Times Leader, Howard, who is still serving his first term as mayor, apparently left the morning after the April 3, 2018 Board of Aldermen meeting and bought gas for the 140-mile trip from Aberdeen to Linden on April 4 at the Love's Truck Stop just off Highway 82 in east Columbus. He bought gas again when he returned to Aberdeen on April 13, 2018.

The total elapsed mileage on the car's odometer between the two gas stops was 120 miles, which is about the distance from Columbus to Linden and back to Aberdeen.

The gas was charged to the mayor's city fuel card at a total cost of $41.59.

The newspaper confirmed the costs and other details through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to the city of Aberdeen and city of Linden, which took an unoccupied vehicle report on the car at 7:39 a.m. on April 6, 2018 after finding it parked next to the old scale house outside the entrance to the chip mill.

The officer, Cody Cross, took a report, took pictures of the car and contacted Aberdeen police to make sure it wasn't stolen but left it there after being assured it wasn't stolen.

Howard, who makes $44,054 as Aberdeen's mayor, also owns a small trucking company, KMR Trucking, which was registered as an LLC in the state last October by his wife, Kenyatta Dilworth, at his home address, 203 S. Maple, the same address at which he has several other business and non-profit ventures registered, some under Maurice Howard and others under the name Maurice Jackson.

After driving to Linden, Howard apparently picked up a leased Penske tractor-trailer rig and drove at least one load of wood chips back to somewhere in or around Aberdeen. The truck was seen parked at the church he pastors just off Highway 45 on and off for several days.

Under state law, public employees are not allowed to drive taxpayer-owned vehicles for personal use. If by some chance Howard was on city business, elected or appointed officials are supposed to get permission from their governing bodies before going out of state on public business.

The Aberdeen Board of Aldermen had not authorized such a trip according to a review of city records by the Daily Times Leader.

In addition, he is supposed to report the use of the city-owned car as income on his taxes, especially if it is being made available for personal use or is driven virtually all the time.

According to the FOIA information obtained from the city, the car is not reported on his W2. It is unclear whether he reports it on his taxes and pays taxes for its use.

The Daily Times Leader previously reported Howard has two personal vehicles registered in his name in Monroe County.

Editor’s note: Former DTL reporter Steve Rogers originally broke the story concerning the mayor’s travels to Aberdeen, in addition to collecting public records on the story.

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