Hancock County

Will DOJ take $320K from Bay St. Louis as ‘punishment?’

Bay St. Louis City Hall
Bay St. Louis City Hall jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

City officials met with agents from the U.S. Department of Justice in Jackson on Thursday regarding the city’s federal forfeitures account, which has been the subject of state and federal probes since money was discovered missing from it last year.

Attendees were Mayor Les Fillingame, Councilman-At-Large Mike Favre, Councilman Lonnie Falgout, City Attorney Trent Favre, Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam and three DOJ agents — one of whom is a forensic auditor, Mike Favre said.

The discussion included the DOJ’s finalization of a report that will be released next week and will direct city leaders on what actions to take regarding the money, Fillingame said.

The “DOJ forfeitures fund,” as the City Council calls it, holds money seized during police operations such as drug busts conducted jointly by federal and local law enforcement agencies.

The city had a reported balance of $298,108 at the end of fiscal year 2014, according to federal documents the Sun Herald obtained through public-records requests. Council members noticed that sum missing in August and called for authorities to investigate. Shortly thereafter, the State Auditor’s Office dispatched investigators to the city and the DOJ sent an assessment team to review the forfeitures account.

The DOJ told Bay St. Louis leaders it will likely direct the city to put about $320,000 back into the account, an amount that will be explained in the report, Mike Favre said.

The account has maintained a balance of about $21,000 for most of 2016. Fillingame’s administration was ordered not to touch it until the investigations are concluded.

City leaders have long awaited an answer on whether the Bay will be penalized for the mishandling of the money. Next week’s report is supposed to contain a directive on whether the city will get to keep the money it puts back into the account.

“It was pretty simple,” Mike Favre said of the meeting. “We’ve got to put the money back. They’re going back and they’ll discuss whether we get to keep the money once we put it back or if they’re going to take it.”

He said there’s a chance the DOJ could take the $320,000 as “some sort of punishment.”

“We’re still being looked at by other agencies,” he said. “I think one of them is the DOJ’s inspector general, and from what I understand, it won’t be good if they come in. You don’t want them there.”

The sheriff attended the meeting because his office is overseeing the Bay St. Louis Police Department.

Wesley Muller: 228-896-2322, @WesleySMuller