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Bryant sets goal to root out public corruption

By Staff
The Star: How do you like being auditor?
Bryant: I really love being state auditor. It is one of the jobs in state government that you can actually do something, you can actually have an effect. You can stop embezzlements. You can stop fraud. You can go out and find better ways to conduct business and government and make recommendations to agencies.
Last legislative session, we went to the Legislature and said there's too many people who historically believe that if you are a public official and you get caught embezzling money you can just pay it back and go away.
We went in and said, "We want to make sure it has a mandatory sentence. We want to make sure that if you embezzle over $10,000 … in public money in the state of Mississippi and you are convicted, you must go to jail for at least one year." That will begin the first of July.
This means you can't be plea-bargained. This means none of your friends in the political world can help you. This means it doesn't matter if you pay the money back. If you are convicted, you will go to jail. That's going to be a strong deterrent for anyone who wants to embezzle money in the state.
We are the only state in the nation that has a mandatory think about this a mandatory sentencing law for public corruption. Most mandatory laws deal with drug convictions or maybe DUI. But public corruption? We think that's important.
The Star: What are your plans for the future?
Bryant: I plan on staying here at the state auditor's office. One of the things I think has happened in the past is auditors have come into office and they'll spend four years or so and then they are off and running for something else. To really change this policy … you do so in the legislative process. It takes more than just one term. I'm committed to change the way we've done business in the auditor's office.
Here's one more piece of legislation.
For years we've been a reporting agency. We'd go in and we'll do our audit and we'll write a finding that says, "You should make sure you reconcile your accounts." Usually, boards will write "We'll do that next year."
Well, you go back and you'll have the same audit again for findings. We've had some seven years in a row with that same finding and the agency will say, "We are going to correct that next year."
We went to the Legislature and said, "Give us an opportunity to have a pre-audit function." If I go in and the third finding is a substantial finding by that we mean you can't reconcile your accounts, you don't know how much money you have in your bank accounts we can go into that entity … seize those records and reconcile those accounts.
When we leave there, the problem will be solved. What we are trying to do is prevent that train wreck that occurs when five or six years down the road we come in and find out someone has embezzled $200,000 and no one has known about it.
We have the authority which we will have the first of July to go in and seize those records. We will go in there and say, "We are going to seize your records. We are going to reconcile these accounts. We are going to make sure that the people's business is being taken care of. You are going to pay our audit fees for doing that. And when we leave here your books will be in order."