If one wants to allow, or facilitate theft and fraud within an organization, a lack of proper accounting controls and no internal audits would be textbook ways to carry out that goal. By not having proper accounting controls and reporting, theft and fraud could go unnoticed with near impunity. Evidence of theft becomes essentially non-existent or too costly and time-consuming to investigate and uncover.
Back in 2013 this blog exposed alleged schemes to defraud taxpayers of thousands of dollars within the City of Hattiesburg’s Public Works Department. In the course of investigating, the Hattiesburg Patriot submitted two record requests. One request was for the investigative summary conducted by the city’s accounting agency Nicholson and Company, PLLC, and another request was for HPD’s closed investigation summary of the department. Mayor Dupree and City Attorney Charles Lawrence refused all requests for these records. The reason for the denial of the records requests was “personnel matters.” Taxpayers funded both investigations.
Records exempt from public access as listed under statute § 25-61-11. Exempted or privileged records. The statute pertaining to disclosure of personnel information is code section 25-1-100. The Hattiesburg Patriot being denied the investigative summary into departmental theft and alleged criminal activity, as well as a closed police investigation summary, are not protected under Mississippi Code. However, this blog lacked the financial resources to file suit in Circuit Court to get a court order for these documents. This scheme was only exposed when restitution was paid back to the city by the Head of Public Works, Russell Davis and Department Manager, Tim Pittman. Receipts paid to the city are not protected by any privacy laws. So, City Attorney Charles Lawrence couldn’t devise a reason to deny a request for city receipts.
The alleged fraud involved overtime and payroll schemes, maintenance of private vehicles with city paid workers and facilities, as well as the maintenance of a private vegetable garden with city worker labor. The article documenting the alleged fraud is titled Mayor Johnny Dupree Cited “personnel matters” in Scheme: Russell Davis & Tim Pittmon Repaid Over $28,000. Davis and Pittman no longer work with the city.
The Hattiesburg Patriot has finally obtained a copy of the report, which outlines Nicholson and Company’s findings and recommendations. This report has never been made available to the public before. The investigation was ordered by the city council. It is clear in this report’s finding that possible gasoline abuse was at play in Public Works back in early 2012, and recommendations were made to prevent this abuse from re-occurring. Additionally the report recommends that an internal auditor be hired and that they report to the City Clerk. Both of these recommendations were ignored by Mayor Dupree, and they were never put on the agenda to remedy the obvious holes in financial security of taxpayer resources. Had these controls been in place, the gas theft in the water department (around election time) would not have happened. Explanations one could conclude as to why Dupree did not implement these findings would either be: (1) incompetence (2) apathy (3) a role in a possible cover-up (4) involvement in a conspiracy. The Hattiesburg Patriot further alleges that City Attorney Charles Lawrence’s denial was not only unlawful, but possibly a conspiracy to cover-up alleged crimes from public scrutiny.
The full Nicholson and Associates investigation summary is below.