Last Updated: Dec 11th, 2014 - 16:30:17


Embezzlement is big story of 2012
By Jody O'Hara
Jan 11, 2013, 09:48

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The biggest news story in Stone County in 2012 didn’t break until the last month of the year.
On Dec. 2, a Stone County Sheriff Department investigation came to light which exposed the embezzlement of more than $300,000 from the Stone County Economic Development Partnership.
Executive secretary Tina Owens Gillespie was taken to the hospital as the result of an alleged overdose after having sent executive director Jay Paul Gumm a text message admitting her wrongdoing and apologizing for what she had done.
The embezzlement was discovered while the Sheriff Department was investigating an alleged embezzlement from the Bank of Wiggins by former head teller Veronica Morse.
SCSD Investigator Eddie Rogers found Morse had been depositing what he said were hundreds of SCEDP checks into Gillespie’s personal account.
Since then, Gillespie has been fired and charged with embezzlement and uttering-forgery, Gumm had his services terminated and the SCEDP executive committee has taken over day-to-day operations of the organization.
The Stone County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution asking the state legislature to restructure the organization’s board of directors.
The City of Wiggins Board of Aldermen tabled a request to join the resolution because of what it considered unequal representation on the board and the SCEDP loudly denounced the supervisors’ action.
All three boards are to meet in the first seven days of the new year.
State Senator Tony Smith has suggested all three boards, along with him and State Representatives Doug McLeod and Timmy Ladner, meet to discuss changes to the SCEDP.
The first 11 months of 2012 had news of their own, also.

JANUARY
 Disaster was averted on New Year’s Day when the Wiggins, Perkinston and McHenry fire departments responded to a fire at the Enviva Pellets plant on Old Hwy. 49.
The fire began on equipment and spread to a silo which blew fire and embers out, igniting other structures.
Allen Walters began a fund-raising drive which has resulted in new street signs and stop signs at several Wiggins intersections. The drive to complete the project continues.
A trio of burglars, caught in the act on Ridge Road, attempted to elude officers from the Stone County Sheriff Department, only to be caught and charged with their crimes.
The arrests cleared up a number of burglaries in Stone, Harrison and Forrest counties.
Efforts by the Mahogany Ladies paid off as the Board of Supervisors voted to change the name of Project Road to New Hope Road.
Complaints of the association of the name Project with subsidized federal housing led the group to seek the change.
 
FEBRUARY
For the third straight year, the Harlem Wizards entertained a sellout crowd at the Henry rath Activity Center.
Representing the Board of Aldermen, Alderman-at-Large Joel Miles went before the Stone County Economic Development Partnership to ask for financial assistance in resurfacing and possibly widening Hall Street between Hwy. 26 and Hwy. 49.
The SCEDP eventually declined to take part in the project.
Mississippi Department of Transportation officials announced plans to make changes to two intersections on Hwy. 49.
MDOT officials, responding to a request by attorney Jonathan Dyal for 10 public records, said they planned to install a traffic signal at Magnolia Drive and Hwy. 49 and make significant changes at the Hall Street-Hwy. 49 intersection.
A meeting is expected this month to discuss those changes with MDOT officials and to specifically ask that the crossover at the intersection not be closed off.
 
MARCH
 Ja’Marion Day’shaun Young, a 3-year-old, darted in front of traffic and was killed when he was struck by a car on Magnolia Drive.
Residents fumed about speeding vehicles and commercial trucks using Fourth Street, but an investigation by the Wiggins Police Department found no cause for a requested stop sign on the thoroughfare.
A trio of individuals was arrested after being found in possession of commercial-grade methamphetamine at Flint Creek Water Park.
The Board of Aldermen held the first of several meetings discussing the quality of water in Wiggins.
Ward 2 Alderman gene Alexander was concerned because the city had received a 4.3 rating out of a possible 5 in a Department of Health study of water quality.
At a second meeting in March, the issue of whether the city’s water had been properly fluoridated came up.
A crowd of between 12,000 and 14,000 celebrated the two-day, 2012 version of the Pine Hill Festival. Organizers called the festival an, “unqualified success.”
The Stone County Utility Authority held a ribbon cutting at its new, state-of-the-art S-8 wastewater treatment facility.
 
APRIL
Resoration and renovation began on the Wiggins City Hall. Utilizing a $150,000 Mississippi Development Authority Grant, the city replaced doors and windows, repainted, updated the interior and returned the building to a closer version of the original structure.
Representatives of the Mississippi Department of Health appeared before the Board of Aldermen to report that city water had had long-standing problems.
Anna Yamat and Keith Allen said the city’s water had not met state specifications for an extended period of time.
They also said the city had been diligent in correcting the problems and things were looking better.
Circuit and Chancery Court judges in Harrison County decreed security measures be taken at all courthouses in the circuit.
The Stone County courthouse was ultimately exempted from the requirements.
The first arguments began to be heard as to whether the Stone County Utility Authority should accept drainage field work at its S-8 wastewater treatment facility.
It had been discovered the pipes in the drip field had not been uniformly laid to the specified depth.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 643 named Stone County, “The Mural County of Mississippi.”
 
MAY
Dissension and division in the community were the result of an incident involving teenagers and alcohol at the Stone High School prom in Biloxi.
A total of 31 students, occupying two limousines, came under fire when alcohol use in the limos was discovered.
When it was not possible to positively identify who had been drinking, all those involved were let go without disciplinary measures.
The Stone County School District Board of Education began revision of the student handbook to forestall future incidents of the same nature.
The Wiggins Police Department was lauded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for accomplishing a nearly-50 percent decrease in burglaries and aggravated assaults.
Nearly 50 people attended a public hearing at the Stone County Courthouse concerning a proposed landfill.
The vast majority opposed the landfill and a permit was ultimately denied.
Discussion continued between the SCUA and contractors about the depth of drip field pipe at S-8. One engineer said the original requirement for the pipe to be laid at 18 inches was unrealistic.
 
JUNE
The Board of Education, going against the wishes of a majority of respondents to a survey sent to 500 people, voted to retain the current 4-point grading system as opposed to a 10-point scale.
Jon Bond and Doris Matthews voted for the change while Nina Shaw, Gertie Brown and Patty Rogers voted to maintain the status quo in grading matters.
DJ Davis was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays as the 17th pick in the first round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. His selection meant a guaranteed $1.75 million contract.
The Wiggins Board of Aldermen voted to install security lighting and tamper-resistant lighting at Blaylock Park and Reynolds Field. The board took the action at the urging of city residents.
The Stone County Board of Supervisors denied an Enviva Biomass request for an ad valorem tax exemption on $12.5 worth of improvements at its plant on Old Hwy. 49.

JULY
Members of the Stone County Sheriff Department, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society of South Mississippi raided an alleged puppy mill.
Between 65-70 dogs, in deplorable conditions, were seized from kennels and a pair of mobile homes.
Hemphill Construction, the contractor that installed the Stone County Utility Authority’s S-8 drip field, offered to completely reinstall the job to satisfy concerns of authority members.
Members had complained that drip tubing had not been laid to a specified and uniform depth.
Several hundred community members turned out to send off members of the Army National Guard Detachment 1 of the 857th Engineering Company.
The unit was preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.
The Wag-A-Bag, a dilapidated former gas station and convenience store on Hwy. 26, was purchased and razed by Alexander and Associates.
The City of Wiggins had previously cleaned the property and attached costs to the ad valorem taxes of the long-term eyesore.
The City of Wiggins passed a public indecency ordinance with the intention of forcing local men to pull up their pants.
Frustrated with sagging britches, Ward 3 Alderman Derrick Gates introduced the ordinance, which provided penalties for overexposed backsides.
Members of the Stone/Wiggins Narcotics Task Force conducted an online prostitution sting which resulted in 11 arrests.

AUGUST
New street signs began going up in Wiggins.
The signs were the result of a campaign by Allen Walters to raise funds to replace standard street and stop signs, and their accompanying poles, with tasteful renditions inspired by those on the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Perkinston Campus.
Two cases of West Nile Virus were reported in Stone County.
The Chevron/Curb Store on Hwy. 26 burned when an employee dumped a smoldering ash tray into a waste basket.
The Wiggins Board of Aldermen split on approval of the proposed Stone County Economic Development Partnership budget.
With two yes votes, two no votes and an abstention, Mayor Jerry Alexander had to cast a deciding yes vote to approve the budget.
The Stone County Board of Supervisors once again rejected a request for a tax exemption from Enviva Biomass, owners of the former Piney Woods Pellets plant.
Surveillance cameras began going up in Blaylock Park, part of a security campaign designed to cut down on petty crime in the city’s parks.
Stone County hunkered down in preparation for Hurricane Isaac.
 
SEPTEMBER
Stone County and South Mississippi began the recovery process after Isaac finally blew through.
Road damages kept the county road department busy and more than 20 homes were damaged by the high winds and rising waters.
Bayou Innovations purchased a 5-acre parcel in the 10-mile Industrial Park.
A developer, marketer and distributer of specialty coatings, the company plans to build a new facility at the site.
A Wiggins police officer fired on a suspect who attempted to run him down with an automobile.
A 125-year-old house in Silver Run was destroyed by fire.
No one was injured in the fire, which McHenry Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tommy Muffler attributed to faulty electrical wiring.
Randy Williams, a member of the board of the Stone County Utility Authority, left a meeting and later resigned, attributing his frustration to what he considered meddling by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
A McHenry home, on Pine Avenue, was destroyed by a tornado.
Brice Bardwell was watching the New Orleans Saints game when rising wind prompted him to herd his wife and son into a closet just before the roof was blown from their home.
 
OCTOBER
A Wiggins resident, Connie M. Knight, was arrested and charged with defrauding Louisiana fishermen after the BP oil spill.
The City of Wiggins announced an expected increase in water and sewer rates.
Alandra Thompson was named Homecoming Queen and Jamie Davis was crowned Homecoming Sweetheart.
Dick O’Neal was nemaed Citizen of the year, Mary Graham was named Educator of the Year, Hampton Inn was recognized as the Large Business of the Year and Pizza Inn was selected as Small Business of the Year at the annual Stone County Economic Development Partnership annual banquet.
Damian McKay, a member of the Stone County Utility Authority raised the specter of diminishing funds as grant moneys begin to run out.
McKay was concerned there would not be enough customers to support the authority once grants from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality are expended.
 
NOVEMBER
An official with Enviva LLC told the Board of Supervisors the continued operation of his company’s wood pellet plant could be endangered if an ad valorem tax exemption wasn’t granted.
Several of the supervisors took exception to the veiled threat.
A local 12-year-old organized and pulled off a Christmas-gift drive for soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
Brittnie Hagerdon made, “A Camo Christmas,” her holiday project and ultimately shipped several packages of gifts overseas.
The Board of Aldermen decided to erect a high-tunnel garden at the Ferris O’Neal Senior Center.
The Wiggins Police Department teamed up with the Mississippi State Attorney General’s office to arrest and charge a Wiggins woman, Lola Burney, with felony simple assault of a vulnerable adult.
Burney had been operating several unlicensed adult foster care facilities in the city and the WPD had received complaints of alleged abuse of the residents.
A Bank of Wiggins head teller, Veronica Morse, was arrested and charged with embezzlement.
An investigation ultimately turned up evidence of $162,000 having been embezzled and led, in part, to the discovery of the embezzlement of more than $300,000 from the Stone County Economic Development Partnership.
 
DECEMBER
Tina Owens Gillespie, the executive secretary of the SCEDP, was hospitalized after officials began investigating her role in the embezzlement scheme at the SCEDP.
Officials said Gillespie had been transported to Forrest General Hospital after an apparent overdose.
Upon her release from the hospital, Gillespie was charged with embezzlement and uttering-forgery.
Both Gillespie and EDP executive director Jay Paul Gumm were terminated, although EDP officials stressed the fact Gumm was not a suspect in the case.
The Stone County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking the state legislature to amend the bill which created the SCEDP in order to change the makeup of the organization’s board of directors.
Stone County Sheriff Department officials, along with members of the Humane Society of the United States, seized five horses from a McHenry farm.
The horses were underweight and plagued by parasites.


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