PEARL, Mississippi – A half-dozen leaders of Bassfield – including the mayor, current and former fire chiefs, city clerk and a police officer – have escaped prison sentences for using the State of Mississippi’s Surplus Property yard as a personal outdoor recreational equipment and sporting goods store.
They used money from the treasury of the tiny Southwest Mississippi town of fewer than 400 people to help themselves to boats, boat motor, boat trailer, travel trailers, track vehicle, tractor, bush hog, travel trailer, aircraft tug and even a mobile home.
The Bassfield employees would come to Surplus Property to purchase equipment for city use but later convert the equipment to personal use, prosecutors say.
The large scale pilfering eventually came to the attention of State Auditor Stacey Pickering, whose pursuit of the case led to convictions of the town officials on charges of fraudulently obtaining equipment. Pickering enlisted Michael Guest, district attorney for Rankin and Madison counties, to obtain the convictions.
Each of the convicted town employees received 10-year prison sentences, though the Rankin County Court suspended the sentences and set five-year supervised parole terms for each of the convicted.
The leniency in sentencing apparently stemmed from the recovery of most of the purloined equipment, which Pickering’s office said carried a value of $309,228.
Sentenced to 10-year suspended terms were:
*Tommy Dewitt, 47, fire chief;
*Jerry Holland, 69, mayor;
*Dianna Hutchinson, 59, deputy court clerk and police officer;
*Robert Mauldin, 44, maintenance engineer;
*Billy Matthews, 68, fire chief;
*Brenda Saulters, 60, city clerk.
“Special agents from our office, along with the staff of Surplus Property and the City of Bassfield, worked in unison to uncover the illegal and fraudulent use of property which is made available for use by local and state governments,” Auditor Pickering said.
“This scam perpetrated by this group was at the expense of taxpayers in Jefferson Davis County and the town of Bassfield,” he added.
Surplus Property has the authority to acquire spare goods from federal and state government and make the items available for purchase at a low cost to be utilized by local, state and non-profit entities in Mississippi.
The property includes multiple boats, laptop computers, travel trailers and heavy equipment. Bassfield employees would come to Surplus Property to purchase equipment for city use but these items were later converted to personal use.
Kevin Upchurch, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, said he looks forward to getting the property back into the state’s inventory.
Returned to Surplus Property were:
*Muskeg Tracked Vehicle with Bucket Attachment
*Bombardier Tracked Vehicle
*2 Laptop Computers
*14’ Sea-Nymph, Flat Bottomed Boat
*Thor-Wanderer Travel Trailer
*2 Forrest River- Cherokee Lite Travel Trailers
*Riverside Adventure Travel Trailer
*50HP Johnson Boat Motor/ Boat Trailer/ 16’ Metal Fishing Boat
*2006 Salem Le Forrest River Travel Trailer
*2005 Salem Le Forrest River Travel Trailer
*2006 Dutchman Kodiak Travel Trailer
*T.L. Industries Modular Park Mobile Home
*Clark Airplane Tug
*14’ Flat Bottomed Boat- returned to individual as a result of a “Good Faith Purchase”
*Ford Tractor- returned to individual as a result of a “Good Faith Purchase”