In September 2018, two former Coahoma Community College employees were charged by the state auditor's office with embezzlement and were given 30 days to pay back $981,600.64.
That case was continued in Coahoma County Circuit Court in January. And while the defendants have requested a speedy trial, January’s motion for a continuance was their fourth in three years.
According to state auditor Shad White at a press conference in the Coahoma County Courthouse in 2018, the investigation concluded Stacie Neal from the CCC accounts payable business office and administrative assistant Gwendolyn Jefferson embezzled an estimated $758,000 from 2013-17. The embezzled amount, plus the $194,000 interest and $28,000 cost for the investigation add up to the $981,600.64 Neal and Jefferson are being told to pay back.
White said the auditor’s office only deals with civil matters and district attorney Brenda Mitchell is handling the case and prosecution.
“What that file is going to detail is that, from at least 2013 to 2017, these two individuals who were working in purchasing at the community college, were taking government procurement cards and they were going to Kroger,” White said. “They were going to Walmart, here in Clarksdale. They were going on Amazon. Many times, they were swiping the cards. They were purchasing gift cards from the stores. They would take those gift cards and do whatever they wanted to with them.”
White said multiple cards were being used and, as Neal and Jefferson kept everything a secret, the amount of money they were spending increased. He added they were going on the Amazon website and purchasing items such as watches, shoes and even a chandelier.
“That makes this the largest individual demand coming from our office in the past five years,” White said at that time.
Mitchell has presented the case to a Coahoma County grand jury and an indictment was handed down in May 2019.
White’s predecessor Stacey Pickering began the investigation in September 2017 through a tip from individuals at CCC. Neal and Jefferson were both fired from CCC after the information was brought to the attention of administrators.
“I will say that Dr. Towner (CCC president Valmadge Towner) and everybody else at the community college was incredibly helpful to us, as we were building this investigation,” White said, adding it was more than 100 pages of Excel documents with subpoenas and interviews.
Towner was present during Monday’s press conference.
White said school officials should tell all college employees to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.
White said with the way school books are doctored, it is hard to catch individuals stealing money through an audit. The No. 1 way, he said, to catch embezzlement is through a tip, just like in this instance.
He encouraged schools to create a culture where employees may speak up without consequences if something seems odd. He added anyone who suspects fraud may go to www.osa.ms.gov and click on the red fraud button or call 601-576-2800 to report any suspicious activity.