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Ex-Delta mayor indicted, accused of stealing city property

Pickering

Pickering

MOUND BAYOU — Mound Bayou’s former mayor has been indicted on charges that he stole city property and used it in his restaurant.

The Bolivar County sheriff’s office said Kennedy Johnson turned himself in Thursday on the three-count embezzlement indictment and is free on $15,000 bond. Sheriff’s officials said Johnson is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday.

Johnson faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 on each count.

Johnson, the brother-in-law of Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, served for 12 years as the mayor of the 1,500-resident town in the Mississippi Delta, losing re-election in 2013. It wasn’t immediately clear Thursday if he had a lawyer. Johnson did not return calls to the J&W Smokehouse, the restaurant he opened in Mound Bayou and later moved to nearby Cleveland.

Spokeswomen for Thompson could not be reached for comment. He lauded the restaurant in the Congressional Record in 2012, saying Kennedy “utilized his skills and unique grilling technique to master what has become known as the best barbeque in the Mississippi Delta.”

Founded in 1887 as a refuge for black people against increasingly harsh segregation in post-Civil War Mississippi, Mound Bayou holds a noted place in the state’s history. It was a place where African Americans ran the government and leading businesses, and was a center of early civil rights activism in the 1950s.

The indictment, dated Wednesday, alleges that from November 2012 to February 2013, Johnson placed two flat-screen televisions that belonged to the city in his restaurant. A news release from state Auditor Stacey Pickering claims Johnson paid for the televisions using money that he stole from the city through undocumented expense reimbursements.

The indictment also alleges that between February 2012 and November 2012, Johnson took a stainless steel sink and two air-conditioning units from the city-owned building housing Mound Bayou’s Head Start center, and placed them at J&W Smokehouse.

Pickering’s office issued a letter Wednesday demanding that Johnson or his bonding company pay $17,346, threatening a civil lawsuit if Johnson doesn’t pay within 30 days. The letter said the property was worth $7,895 and assessed another $9,451 to cover interest and the cost of the auditor’s investigation.

Brett Kittredge, a spokesman for Pickering, said the auditor’s office started its inquiry after it got a tip last year before Johnson lost his re-election bid, ultimately sparking the criminal charges and the repayment demand.

“Public corruption hurts communities, ruins lives, and robs taxpayers,” Pickering said in a statement.

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