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Bryant sets goal to root out public corruption

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
May 27, 2002
State Auditor Phil Bryant said he has tried to reduce the number of government fraud and embezzlement cases since he took office in November 1996.
Last week, Bryant returned more than $43,000 to Clarke County most of which had been embezzled by a former Justice Court employee.
That same day, Bryant met with The Meridian Star editorial board. He discussed the Clarke County case and other issues including a new state law requiring mandatory prison time for public corruption.
The Meridian Star: What are your goals for the state auditor's office?
Phil Bryant: My goal from the very beginning has been to try to deter and reduce the number of fraud and embezzlement cases that we have. I came into this office thinking we could actually reduce that, stop it.
In the last 61/2 years, now, we've had over $3 million recovered, 70 public officials and government employees either indicted or now in jail. So it doesn't seem to be slowing down as much as I'd like it.
So we are going to be increasing our effort. We are going to try to send a clear message out that if you are going to embezzle tax dollars you are going to be held accountable for it. We are going to prosecute you … and demand that the money be repaid.
The Meridian Star: Do these cases and your investigations involve all government positions?
Bryant: Municipal, state, local all forms of government in Mississippi. And you are talking about doing that with 16 investigators in the field. So it's quite a demand.
And these are particularly hard cases. People are surprised. People are usually resistant when we first start an investigation. The first thing we normally hear is, "Oh, you must be wrong."
They are time consuming. You've got sometimes hundreds, if not thousands, of documents that you've got to go through, one piece at a time, to try to build a case over a period.
The Star: When are cases the responsibility of your office and the responsibility of the state attorney general's office?
Bryant: All of ours are related to financial situations. An embezzlement or fraud might lead to a loss to a public entity. (The attorney general's office) has the public integrity authority in any number of corrupt situations.
For example, if I am being offered a bribe to cast a vote in a certain way on a county board or a city board, there may not be a loss. That would be more of a responsibility of the attorney general's office because we don't see a loss.
We work a lot of cases very closely together, too.
The Star: Could you elaborate on your working relationship with Attorney General Mike Moore especially since you are a Republican and Moore is a Democrat?
Bryant: It's an excellent relationship not only on a professional level but a personal level. And that may have something to do with our success.
Mike and I are close friends, along with being partners in this relationship between the attorney general and the state auditor. We have never let party affiliation affect us at all. We rarely ever talk about it unless it's in a humorous situation.
My job is to put these cases together, to gather the facts, put them into a condition that they can then be prosecuted either on a criminal or civil level. And the attorney general is our prosecutor.

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