The mayor of Aberdeen has been arrested and charged with five counts of embezzlement after the state auditor’s office claimed he deposited city funds in his personal bank account.
According to Logan Reeves with the State Auditor’s Office, Mayor Maurice Howard was arrested by special agents Wednesday night and transported to the Monroe County Jail.
A demand letter worth $11,649.34 was delivered to Howard at the time of his arrest, Reeves said. Interest and investigative costs are included in the demand amount.
“Howard is accused of embezzling city funds meant to pay for travel expenses related to city business. Howard sought and was paid advance checks for attending meetings and conferences on behalf of the City of Aberdeen but then failed to actually attend the events.
“By depositing the checks into his personal bank account and not returning the unused money, Howard allegedly stole nearly $3,500 from Aberdeen taxpayers,” the release stated.
In speaking with WTVA-TV Wednesday night, Howard said he believed the charge stemmed from work-related trips between 2016 and 2018.
Howard, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday morning, told WCBI the allegations were false.
“All of these charges have been approved by the board of aldermen, therefore there is no embezzlement,” Howard told the station. “The mayor has no access to funds. There is no access to funds from the mayor. The mayor can’t touch one penny unless the board approves it. Once the board approves it from that table, they will then cut me a check.
“I use that money to travel with, I use that money for gas, I use the money for mileage on my vehicle, the wear and tear, and I also use the money for my per diem which I have done all of those things.”
Auditor Shad White said Howard’s use of city funds was a “breach of trust.”
“Politicians should not lie to the voters about working on their behalf when they are not. And they certainly should not lie in order to financially benefit at the same time,” White said in the release. “This is a breach of the trust that the voters put in our elected officials, and the mayor must be held accountable.”
Howard, who is currently is his first term as mayor, has has been at odds with the city’s aldermen over the last year, WTVA reported.
Last April, they questioned Howard’s use of city vehicle, which was found parked in Alabama.
Reeves addressed the issue in the release, stating, “Investigators also determined the mayor used a city vehicle for personal travel. In addition to this, they found Howard should repay the city for providing hotel rooms and conference registration fees the mayor never used. This part of the demand is worth over $2,000 and is not part of the criminal allegations against him.”
Then, in July 2018, aldermen cut Howard’s salary by $15,000.
Last month, Howard threatened to file a lawsuit because aldermen voted to ban people except law enforcement officers from bringing guns into City Hall.
In response, the mayor wore a gun in a holster during a budget meeting.
Howard bonded out of jailed Wednesday night on a $10,000 bond.
If convicted on all counts, Howard faces up to $25,000 in fines and 100 years in prison, Reeves said. Conviction would also prevent him from holding public office.