The mayor and other city employees are under investigation for allegedly issuing more than 700 city checks without proper authorization, according to Hancock County sheriff’s officials.
Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam and Chief Investigator Glenn Grannan say the investigation has expanded in the last month to include a higher number of checks than previously thought.
This is the first time the sheriff’s office has specifically named Mayor Les Fillingame as one of the subjects of the investigation, though they say it also includes other city employees.
The city of Bay St. Louis’ mayor-council form of government requires the administration to obtain authorization by the city council before spending money. Officials are investigating if the checks were written without council authorization. No one is suspected of converting the checks for personal use.
Fillingame said the suggestion that any checks were improperly issued is false and a last-minute attempt by his opponents to influence Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary, of which he is a part.
“This sounds like some old stuff being drug up to try to sway the election,” the mayor said. “Every employee who signed those checks did so with the authority of the council.”
Grannan said his office was working with the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor on the investigation, but Fillingame told the Sun Herald late Friday he does not believe that is true. The mayor said he learned of a county investigation in 2016 and no one from the auditor’s office has been around City Hall recently.
Fillingame also said he does not issue city checks.
The improper issuance of a city check, considered a misdemeanor offense, occurs when someone writes, signs or endorses a check without proper authorization.
A problem with check issuance was one of the many findings in several state performance audits. Fillingame, however, maintains the official who conducted those audits, Sam Atkinson, wrote a biased review after being influenced by council members.
The mayor pointed to a letter from the auditor sent to the city in February as evidence that Atkinson was wrong. In the letter, the auditor’s office reversed itself from a prior opinion regarding the mayor’s repayment of money he misspent from of a U.S. Department of Justice grant.
The letter makes no mention of improperly issued checks nor the accuracy of Atkinson’s audit. Nevertheless, the mayor said the fact the auditor’s office disputed itself on one issue puts everything else into question.
When asked why the investigation is expanding if he has proof no checks were improperly issued, the mayor said it’s possible the sheriff and his investigators favor his opponent. The sheriff declined to comment on that accusation, saying only: “We do our job, and at the end of the day it’s never anything personal.”