GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Moss Point Mayor Mario King has officially resigned as mayor following an appearance in federal court Wednesday. King pleaded guilty to one federal charge of wire fraud.
He and his wife Natasha King were initially charged with 13 federal charges of aiding and abetting wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government through wire fraud.
The hearing Wednesday morning in the Gulfport courthouse lasted almost one hour. After having heard the judge read the first count, and upon hearing the prosecution say they had evidence, Mario stood up in court and said, “Guilty, your honor.” His wife Natasha only uttered one word: “Guilty.”
“We’re going to go after fraud, no matter where it is and particularly when it happens with public officials,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie. “Essentially, if you do what you’re supposed to do, you’re not going to get into trouble.”
One of the key pieces of evidence presented by prosecutors was the the March 4, 2019, appearance by the Kings on WLOX’s 4 O’clock Show where they promoted the Mayor’s Gala, which was held on March 23 of that year. The indictment accused Mario and Natasha of soliciting funds for the benefit gala but not using that money for its intended purpose, which was to support a mental health program for Moss Point School District. Instead, prosecutors said the Kings used the money to pay various personal expenses.
Judge Sul Ozerden asked Mario King on Wednesday, “Is that, in fact, what happened in this case, Mr. King?”
King’s reply was, “Yes, sir.”
“They made solicitations based on, frankly, on his position as mayor, that this was going to go to the school district, and the funds did not. The lesson to be learned is don’t do that,” Meynardie said. “We had great investigators who were working the case. When they give me a great case, it’s fairly easy to prosecute.”
Meynardie said he hopes this case sets a lasting example.
“It sends a message to anyone else who wants to do something like this. There was not a great deal of money involved in this case, but doesn’t matter how much money it is, if you’re going to do this, particularly as a public official, that we’re going to take action against you,” he said.
Mario King is now facing 30 months in federal prison. His wife Natasha is facing up to five years in prison but the recommended sentence is for probation only. Both defendants are facing up a maximum combined fine of up to $250,000.
They are each set to be sentenced on May 26, 2021.
A resignation letter from Mario King to the City Clerk and Board of Alderman was filed with the city Wednesday morning ahead of the court hearing. The letter was short and to the point, consisting of only one sentence: “I, Mario King, do hereby resign my position as Mayor of the City of Moss Point effective Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.”
The former mayor is not expected to make a public statement following Wednesday’s guilty plea, according to his attorney earlier this week.
Last week, a letter was sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of the Moss Point Board of Alderman requesting that they make it part of Mario King’s plea agreement that he resign as mayor upon entering a guilty plea. The board will now move on to the process of selecting an interim mayor to serve until the election later this year.
The board of alderman held special call meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss King’s resignation and the appointment of current Mayor Pro Temp Robert Byrd as interim mayor. The board also selected Alderman At Large David Chapman as Mayor Pro Temp. Mayor. Mayor Byrd was sworn in by Judge Keith Miller and will proceed with all mayoral duties until Moss Point’s general election in June 2021.
Also on the agenda for the special called meeting is to request that King return all city-owned equipment, including computers, files, and keys to buildings and vehicles, and to approve IT to block King’s access to city files and email.
This is a developing story and will be updated as new information is received.
Watch the March 4, 2019, appearance of the Kings on WLOX that was used as evidence in the case against them below.