Hancock County

Where's the DOJ money? Bay council blocks mayor's $88K transaction

By WESLEY MULLER

wmuller@sunherald.com

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WESLEY MULLER/SUN HERALDStreet lamps on Bay St. Louis' Beach Boulevard bear ornamental designs of the city's name Tuesday Jan. 19, 2015.
WESLEY MULLER/SUN HERALDStreet lamps on Bay St. Louis' Beach Boulevard bear ornamental designs of the city's name Tuesday Jan. 19, 2015.

BAY ST. LOUIS -- The City Council on Tuesday reversed a measure by Mayor Les Fillingame to reimburse the city's federal forfeitures account, which has been the subject of state and federal probes since money was discovered missing from it in August.

Upon examining the city's cash balances, the council noticed an increase of about $88,000 in the U.S. Department of Justice equitable sharing account. The account holds police forfeiture money seized during operations such as drug busts conducted jointly by federal and local law enforcement agencies.

The "DOJ forfeitures fund," as the City Council calls it, had a last 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 the situation. Shortly thereafter, the Office of the State Auditor dispatched investigators to the city, and the DOJ sent an assessment team to review the forfeitures account.

The mayor said he moved the $88,000 from the general operating account into the DOJ account as part of a corrective action outlined by the DOJ.

"We, as one of the corrective actions outlined by the DOJ, put that money back," he said. "We know that's what's probably going to show up in the audit for the last six years."

The council, however, voted 7-0 to reverse the mayor's action.

"(The mayor) did some kind of figuring over the years and thought that the DOJ fund was short by $87,000 or $88,000," Councilman Jeffrey Reed said. "It was taken out of the general fund, and the administration doesn't have the power to do that, so we voted 7-0 to put the money back. Until the DOJ report comes out, we won't know how much is short."

In November, the DOJ ordered the city to, among other things, hire an independent auditor to examine and reconcile its DOJ forfeitures account. The city complied and is awaiting the results.

Also, the state Auditor's Office began conducting a comprehensive review of Bay St. Louis finances earlier this month and is expected to finish in March. The City Council plans to meet with Auditor's Office officials Thursday evening.

The mayor said the meeting will be more of a training session than anything else.

"We'll start implementing some of the recommendations they'll have," he said.

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