Crime

$27K went missing from Coast fire department. But it was way more than that, cops say

Former Diamondhead Fire Protection District office manager Sandra Morris Zitterkopf, 57, is now suspected of embezzling between $68,000 and $69,000 over a year's time, Jones said.
Former Diamondhead Fire Protection District office manager Sandra Morris Zitterkopf, 57, is now suspected of embezzling between $68,000 and $69,000 over a year's time, Jones said. Courtesy of the Hancock County Sheriff's Department

A Kiln woman had worked for the Diamondhead Fire Protection District for 18 years when she was accused of embezzling about $27,600.

Hancock County sheriff's detectives found evidence of more missing money — about $42,000 — before they took the case to a grand jury, Detective Lynn Jones said.

Former office manager Sandra Morris Zitterkopf, 57, is now suspected of embezzling between $68,000 and $69,000 over a year's time, Jones said.

Deputies arrested Zitterkopf on four counts of embezzlement Monday after a grand jury indicted her on a total of five counts.

Zitterkopf collected monthly fees from taxpayers who own property in the Diamondhead Fire Department's protection zone. The district oversees fire and rescue services with paid firefighters and operates independently of the city.

She also handled the payroll, which is how the first alleged embezzlement was discovered, leading to her arrest on Nov. 28, 2016, on one charge of embezzlement, Jones said.

Zitterkopf was relieved of her duties without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

The accusations affected morale at the fire department, Fire Chief Jerry Dubuisson said.

“The fire department is one of the most trusted organizations in our culture," Dubuisson said. "This affected trust — the community's trust.”

Detectives began a forensic investigation before prosecutors took the case to a Hancock County grand jury in April.

"We found 26 different transactions through the payroll, with money transferred through the payroll for the entire fire department and herself, embezzlement by other ways and some taken by forgery," Jones said.

Detectives began investigating the case when the alleged embezzlement was discovered in October 2016, Jones said.

The investigation shows Zitterkopf took the money from September 2015 through August 2016, according to Jones.

"She has returned a portion of the money," Jones said.

Zitterkopf deposited the money in her account and spent it, Chief Deputy Don Bass said. He said he did not know specific ways of how she spent the money.

She was released from jail Monday on bonds that total $5,000. She also has a $20,000 bond from her first embezzlement arrest.

Robin Fitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews
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