Pelahatchie: A Cautionary Tale for Local Leaders

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Pelahatchie: A Cautionary Tale for Local Leaders
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Mayor Ryshonda Beechem with her Attorney Thomas Bellinder
Desare Frazier

The clock is ticking for leaders in the Mississippi town of Pelahatchie. The state auditor's office says they misappropriated some $500,000 and they have to pay it back. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.

An investigation by Mississippi's State Auditor found some current and former leaders in Pelahatchie improperly used drug seizure funds. Auditor Stacey Pickering says by law the monies are only for law enforcement expenses. His investigation found town leaders paid expenses such as utilities, salaries, and overtime with the funds.

"Even though they were spending it on other city services they weren't generating the tax base and the revenue. This is where you have to look and say can we continue to have the number of employees we have. Can we pay the salaries we're paying? They didn't have the money and they were using forfeited funds to prop up the government of Pelahatchie.

The current mayor, Ryshonda Beechem, took office July 1, 2017. She says diverting funds began before she became mayor. Beechem says after signing the checks during her second month in office she found out it was illegal and told the board of alderman.

"I stopped it immediately. I had a little resistance because of it, reach out to the auditor's office with questions because that's what they're there for," said Beechem.

The auditor is demanding the current administration pay $80,000 of the $500,000 tab. The balance must be paid by the previous administration. Pickering says it's a lesson for other local leaders.

"This is a cautionary tale for every city, every county across the state of Mississippi to make sure they're following the law. Ignorance is not an excuse under any circumstance," said Pickering.

Pickering says they have 30 days to come up with a payment plan.