Tax collector reverses decision on former employee’s volunteer work following guilty plea

Deputy Tax Collector Denise Gill admitted to one count of defrauding taxpayers Thursday in court.
Updated: Jan. 23, 2020 at 4:10 PM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The deputy tax collector who admitted in court Thursday morning to defrauding the county and taxpayers is being told she can no longer work for the county, even as a volunteer.

WLOX reached out to Harrison County Tax Collector David LaRosa Thursday after Denise Gill pleaded guilty in court to falsifying mileage on travel reimbursement forms submitted to the county.

Gill, who has been employed at the tax collector’s office for the last 35 years, was still working as a volunteer in that same office as of Thursday. LaRosa initially told WLOX News that she would continue to do so until her sentencing and that he had no intention of asking her to leave before Feb. 26.

By Thursday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors was weighing in on the question of Gill’s volunteer work saying that while the board has no influence over the hiring practices or management of the Tax Collector’s office, "the following statute prohibits the county employment of anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to a felony that involves public funds.”

Section 25-1-113 reads in relevant part:

*1 (2) From and after July 1, 2014, the state and any county, municipality or any other political subdivision shall not employ or continue to employ a person who has been convicted or pled guilty in any court of this state, another state, or in federal court of any felony in which public funds were unlawfully taken, obtained or misappropriated in the abuse or misuse of the person’s office or employment or money coming into the person’s hands by virtue of the person’s office or employment.

When asked by WLOX News about the statute, LaRosa said he had just learned of it. He went on to say he will abide by the law and Gill will not continue working in the office effective immediately.

“I didn’t know the law said that once you plea you can’t work, but we just found out so that ends that," LaRosa said. "The board attorney was kind enough to send over the law that said she can’t do it, we didn’t know it was the law, so she’s definitely going to be gone.”

Denise Gill’s attorney Joe Sam Owen said in his interpretation of Gill’s plea, she would be able to continue in a volunteer capacity with the tax collector’s office until her sentencing.

“The sentencing recommendation included a fine, restitution, payment to the victims’ compensation fund and her resignation, but since we never got to the sentencing we never got to the resignation part,” he said.

Denise Gill initially faced four counts of submitting fraudulent mileage requests. She pleaded guilty to one of the charges, which amounted to nearly $700 for mileage requests. Those requests happened between August 2017 and April 2018.

According to Gill, she filed expense forms stating she used her personal vehicle to conduct official county business on behalf of the tax collector’s office, traveling daily between the county’s three tax collector offices, which are located in Gulfport, Biloxi, and Orange Grove.

“During the charged timeframe, the defendant would routinely submit travel vouchers claiming that she had traveled to those locations during the work day in her personal vehicle," stated Chief ADA Crosby Parker. "By way of witnesses, video and card readers from the courthouses, and for a set amount of time a GPS tracker, the State would show that she did not travel to these locations in her personal vehicle as she claimed.”

The judge ordered that Gill be recommended for house arrest and set her sentencing for Feb. 26 once the MDOC evaluation to determine her eligibility has been completed.

LaRosa stressed that despite the initial charges filed last summer - which included a demand letter worth nearly $20,000 - Gill’s guilty plea Thursday was to one felony count dealing with mileage discrepancies.

“It’s 600 bucks is all it is," said LaRosa.

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