May 22, 2002
If you are going to embezzle tax dollars, you are going to be held accountable for it. We are going to prosecute you criminally and demand that the money be repaid.
Phil Bryant, state auditor
Investigating authorities tell us that cases of embezzlement, like other crimes, usually begin with two things: motive and opportunity. Motive goes to a weakness of the human condition, giving rise to greed and an infatuation for having something that isn't yours. In the case of public funds, opportunity goes to a systemic failure that facilitates motive.
Greed may well have been the motive in a recent case in which the state auditor's office was able to collect and return to Clarke County taxpayers a total of more than $43,000 after the embezzlement conviction of Justice Court clerk Mary Lynn Fagan.
We have yet to get a full accounting of three local cases, one of which has been under investigation for more than a year the case of Mark Cowart, formerly with the Meridian Airport Authority. He resigned amid allegations that he had taken money from the airport parking lots' "honesty boxes." Assistant Attorney General Scott Leary confirmed that the case has been turned over to him by the auditor's office, and that a separate attorney general's investigation is complete. Leary would not say whether a criminal indictment against Cowart would be pursued.
Two other high profile cases also are under investigation. The auditor says a process is under way to recover money missing from the Meridian Police Department's front desk, a July 2001 case. And, allegations were raised earlier this month against Weems Community Mental Health Center executive director Emry Kennedy, who has been suspended with pay.
We take state Auditor Phil Bryant at his word when he says, "If you are going to embezzle tax dollars, you are going to be held accountable for it. We are going to prosecute you criminally and demand that the money be repaid."
The time is rapidly approaching when these pending cases need some resolution.