State auditor issues nearly $1M demand

State Auditor Shad While just announced the third largest embezzlement demand from his office in 20 years. The nearly $1 million demand is the result of an embezzlement scheme in Clarksdale where multiple individuals were taking procurement cards and buying things like gift cards for family members, watches, shoes, and even a chandelier.

Special Agents from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor delivered demand letters for embezzlement to former Coahoma Community College employees Gwendolyn Jefferson and Stacie Neal. Each demand is for $981,600.64, which includes principal, interest, and investigative costs.

Both Jefferson and Neal conspired to embezzle money from Coahoma Community College by creating false purchase documents and making personal purchases with credit cards and checks belonging to the community college. From 2013-2017, Jefferson and Neal made over $750,000 in purchases from local and online retailers.

This case represents the largest individual demand for embezzlement from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor in 5 years. The second largest demand amount in the past 5 years was for $362,689.14 and issued to William “Bill” Walker, former Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. This is the third largest individual demand amount for embezzlement issued by this office in over 20 years.

“All of the credit for uncovering this massive embezzlement scheme goes to the whistleblowers at the community college and agents in our office,” White said. “This case involved multiple college procurement cards and a large number of illegal transactions. Our investigators had to plow through college records, which had been falsified by these employees, bank records, and sales records. The end result was over a hundred spreadsheet pages in the investigative file. These employees conspired together, watching each other’s back, to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the students at this community college and the taxpayers.”

After a complex, year-long investigation, Auditor White has delivered the case to Brenda Mitchell, District Attorney for the Mississippi 11th District.

“We need to use this as a teaching moment for anybody who is running a local government or a state agency or anything else,” White said. “They need to know that if you have got the same person taking an invoice, recording the invoice, making a payment, taking deposits, putting deposits in the bank, recording the deposit if you’ve got one person doing multiple different activities inside of your purchasing office, it’s probably a mistake.”

White said the embezzlement happened over the course of several years and that Jefferson and Neal were able to watch each other’s backs to ensure they did not get caught He also added that employees should speak up if they see something unusual. 

“There are often clues about someone’s lifestyle or a strange way of handling the books that are red flags of embezzlement,” White said. “Most corruption in America is discovered not through audits but through tips, so speak up.”