Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo was being investigated over allegations he had illegally sold at least one city-owned firearm and had committed payroll fraud, Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam said Friday.
The investigation had been going on four months, but it wasn’t all about De Nardo.
“It was a multi-point investigation not focusing on just one thing, but on several things going on in Bay St. Louis,” Adam said.
De Nardo shot himself in the chest Thursday with a short, pistol-grip shotgun as he was being escorted from the police station for a suspension, Adam said. De Nardo died shortly afterward at a hospital.
De Nardo left an apology note for the payroll fraud in an envelope on his desk, Adam said. De Nardo wrote two other apology messages, including one to the mayor. Both have been turned over to the FBI, he said.
“We’d gotten an anonymous letter tip on the payroll fraud,” Adam said.
“I’m not one to bushwhack somebody over an anonymous tip. I called him into my office Aug. 23. He said there wasn’t anything to it, but I could just tell. So when we reviewed payroll sheets, we could see it. It’s turned over to somebody else — federal.
“The sad part of it is he was a friend of mine.”
Allegations had also surfaced that De Nardo had sold at least one city-issued gun. It could involve several weapons, Adam said.
De Nardo shot himself Thursday afternoon behind the Bay St. Louis police station. He was rushed to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Adam has said De Nardo had been informed he was being suspended from his duties and deputies had escorted him out as they confiscated his city-owned equipment.
Also, federal official told the Associated Press on Friday that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators had received “unsubstantiated criminal intelligence” about De Nardo but had not yet opened a formal investigation. Jason Denham, the resident agent in charge of ATF’s Gulfport field office, said the agency had received the allegations only a day or two before De Nardo’s death. The federal investigation would have been separate from the sheriff’s inquiry.
“We had not approached him. We had not confronted him,” Denham told the AP.
The Sun Herald could not reach Denham for comment.
Bay Councilman Mike Favre said he is certain the death of De Nardo was not related to a DOJ investigation into city finances, and said he would do everything he could to prove it.
“I know this has nothing to do with the DOJ investigation,” Favre said. “He (De Nardo) was out front about it. In fact, he was the one who did his best to bring it into the light. When I can, I will do everything I can to prove it.”
Councilman Doug Seal said he had only heard rumors of an investigation.
“We heard some word on the street of the gun thing, but nothing beyond that,” Seal said. “We have not been apprised of anything else. We will deal with it when we know more.
“No way we could have known what was going on. We’re still trying to figure out what happened. We’re all grieving.”
Mayor Les Fillingame declined to comment on the investigation.
“The county is investigating this and we’ve agreed to fully cooperate with them,” he said.
Sun Herald reporters Justin Vicory and Jeff Clark and the AP contributed to this report.