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Leader of downtown Jackson group convicted of misusing money

The head of a downtown Jackson development group has been convicted on a charge that he embezzled money from the organization.

Ben Allen was found guilty Tuesday on one count of a 10-count indictment. That count charged Allen with improperly receiving money from Downtown Jackson Partners to pay his wife’s mobile phone bill.

A lawyer tells The Clarion-Ledger Allen will appeal the conviction.

The executive director was indicted last year on charges he stole nearly $55,000 of the group’s money and misused another $190,000.

Representatives of Downtown Jackson Partners testified that Allen did nothing wrong, and that as a private entity, the nonprofit could compensate Allen as it wished.

Prosecutors, though, argued that an assessment collected from property owners is public tax money that Allen improperly took.

“All this money should have been going to the betterment of downtown Jackson instead of the betterment of Ben Allen,” Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Sue Perry told jurors in a closing argument Tuesday. She said Allen could do what he wanted with the money because he alone signed checks and “no one was watching.”

Downtown Jackson Partners alleged that Allen’s troubles originated with his former administrative assistant, Linda Brune. The nonprofit fired Brune in 2014, alleging she leaked documents to The Clarion-Ledger. It has filed a civil lawsuit against Brune in Madison County, alleging she stole $40,000 from the organization. That suit is pending and Brune has not faced criminal charges in Jackson, despite efforts by the nonprofit to press charges.

One of the prosecution’s witnesses, Derrick Garner of the state auditor’s office, testified that he found no proof Allen embezzled funds related to the charges listed in the indictment. But the case ensnared two other high-ranking employees of the state auditor’s office. District Attorney Robert Smith obtained hindering prosecution indictments against Investigations Division Director David Huggins and Deputy Director Karei McDonald. State Auditor Stacey Pickering has called on Smith to dismiss those charges, which are still pending.

Smith himself recently escaped conviction when a judge declared a mistrial on charges that he had hindered prosecution by improperly aiding a defendant.

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