BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - An auditor investigating unaccounted funds regarding the Bay St. Louis Police Department released her findings Tuesday night.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) regulates drug forfeiture money. The DOJ designated $300,000 to the police department to purchase equipment, such as body cameras for city police officers and to conduct undercover operations. Auditor Becky Hammond recommended city leaders figure out a way to put the $300,000 in a separate bank account flagged specifically for DOJ funds for the police department.
"No money was ever missing. It is not even a matter of co-mingling funds. It was a cash flow problem," Hammond told council members. She said no criminal act had been committed but said the money could have been accounted for more clearly.
City council members moved into a closed session to discuss the legalities of what they had just heard from the auditor. One of the councilmen suggested the money be taken out of a city reserve account. Reserve account money comes from the sale of city assets and is intended to be used for capital improvement projects.
After the 30-minute closed session ended, city councilmen came back into the council chamber and voted to take the $300,000 out of the reserve account.
The council also voted to authorized the city attorney to notify the bonding companies of Mayor Les Fillingame, two of the city's previous clerks, and two independent audit firms which conducted recent audits for the city that claims would be made on behalf of the city. The hope is that enough money will be collected from those bonding companies to replace the money taken out of the reserve account. If the amount exceeds what an elected official is bonded and insured for, that official could be forced to relinquish his or her office.
In order to receive future funding from the DOJ, the $300,000 had to be placed in a separate account. Previously, the DOJ money was just placed in the city's general fund. Councilman Mike Favre said the money was spent on city operating expenses.
Auditor Hammond cautioned that's the danger of not putting drug forfeiture funds in a separate account.