Jackson County

Grand jury clears him, now ex-Ocean Springs official wants an apology

Ocean Springs Public Works Director Andre Kaufman attends Board of Alderman meeting in April 2015, when the Board of Aldermen considered his suspension over the scrap metal fund.
Ocean Springs Public Works Director Andre Kaufman attends Board of Alderman meeting in April 2015, when the Board of Aldermen considered his suspension over the scrap metal fund. amccoy@sunherald.com File

The District Attorney’s office has cleared former Ocean Springs Public Works Department head Andre Kaufman of any criminal wrongdoing involving a scrap metal fund the department kept, separate from the city general fund.

The DA’s office looked into the fund Kaufman and his department kept — and used for community events or for helping department employees in need — and took the information to a grand jury.

“The grand jury found insufficient evidence that a crime occurred,” a spokeswoman for the DA’s office said Monday.

Kaufman, speaking to the Sun Herald on Monday, said he wants an apology because “a cloud has hung over me and my family for years.” It has been two years since Kaufman was ousted and four years, he said, since the scrap metal fund was first brought to Mayor Connie Moran’s attention and she contacted the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor.

Moran called for Kaufman’s resignation in 2015, in part because of the scrap metal fund, and announced that the state auditor and district attorney’s office would investigate. City leaders met with Kaufman and his attorney. Kaufman agreed to step down as head of Public Works but remained with the department for two months until he retired.

At the time, Kaufman said he did no wrong and now says the city refused to thoroughly look at his side of the story.

About the fund

Kaufman said the fund began when he asked the Board of Aldermen to approve letting his department sell and keep proceeds from scrap metal that homeowners put out on the street for pick up or brought to the city Public Works department dumpsters — like washing machines, screen doors, old lawn mowers, etc.

He said that in a 2010 letter to the board about the disposal of city-property scrap metal — like old water fittings, street signs and pipes — he also asked if the department could keep and sell scrap metal the department picked up from homeowners or was left at the department.

Once he believed he had consent to keep and sell the scrap, he said he conferred with an assistant city clerk as to how to keep the money collected.

He said he was told that if he turned it over to the city, it would be put in the general fund for the Board of Aldermen to spend.

“We would not have control,” Kaufman said. “There was no mechanism to set it up as a separate account for Public Works.”

So he said an employee advised him to get a safe at the department and keep the checks there.

Kaufman said he would photograph the scrap loads to show that the city property was separate from the other scrap. He said the payments for the private scrap were in the form of checks written out to him.

“We would have been hauling it to the scrap yard anyway, and we turned it into cash,” he said. “We donated to the community.”

He said they gave money to Lord is My Help soup kitchen, the Poor Man’s Yacht Club bicycle drive, and even the Mississippi Department of Corrections at Christmas because MDOC helped the Public Works Department with its inmate work program.

He said there was a committee that decided how to spend the money. They helped Smith County after a tornado distributing 20, $100 gift cards to people in that community.

He said they gave money to a Public Works employee whose husband lost his job at Christmas. They bought food for Public Works shrimp boils and events like that, he said.

Incomplete information

“We tried to do good in the community,” he said. “But when somebody decided Andre needed to go, copies of the checks were turned over to the mayor.”

He said Moran was involved at looking into the matter 18 months before the Board of Aldermen was informed.

Kaufman said that when he was finally able to sit down with the district attorney in February and explain everything, he was eventually cleared by the grand jury.

“I never heard a charge of what this was,” he said. “A cloud hung over me for years until we were able to show the district attorney all the documents.”

Kaufman said it was no secret that he and the mayor did not get along. He said he felt she was looking for a way to get rid of him.

Kaufman said the Public Works Department under his direction was lauded by other cities and it won awards. He said he had proven to be very efficient in handling hurricane aftermaths and getting federal and state reimbursements in a timely manner.

Kaufman knew the city water and sewer systems, and he was able to position his men to cut off water lines during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that saved the city time in reestablishing water and sewer service.

He said that since he left, city leaders have asked him to consider a position with the city dealing specifically with hurricane recovery, because of his expertise.

“I was not a threat to any mayor or Board of Aldermen,” Kaufman said. “If anyone was threatened by it, it was their idea.”

“I expect an apology for being labeled a thief and a crook,” Kaufman said. “They owe me an apology. They smeared me and my family.”

In a press release, Moran said: “We are pleased to see this matter concluded ... The City has cooperated with all law enforcement agencies that have investigated this matter.

“We appreciate and respect the judicial process and the efforts of the offices of the District Attorney and State Auditor.”