Aberdeen Mayor Maurice Howard entered a not guilty plea Nov. 14 in Lee County Circuit Court stemming from allegations of five counts of embezzlement.
Howard was indicted Oct. 30 on the charges following an investigation by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor. He was issued $3,500 in travel reimbursements from the city for five trips he allegedly never took.
The trips were to a Mississippi Development Authority class in Jackson and an economic development event in Saginaw, Michigan, both in April 2017; a trip in July 2017 to Atlanta regarding a Huddle House investment; a Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway conference in Point Clear, Alabama in 2017; and a trip to the Governor’s Conference in Jackson in 2017.
During Nov. 5’s Aberdeen Board of Aldermen meeting, he said he has evidence to prove he took the trips. He also said in that meeting he brought Huddle House representatives back to Aberdeen to meet with aldermen, and some of the aldermen left.
According to court documents, his official plea date is scheduled for Jan. 28. Plea dates give defendants’ attorneys the opportunity to meet with the District Attorney to discuss offers.
The next term of Monroe County Circuit Court begins Feb. 3 and if Howard pleads not guilty, the date of further court proceedings could be set during that court term.
He is being represented by Tupelo attorney John Robbins, according to court documents.
Howard told the Monroe Journal the night of his indictment that he hopes to expedite the court case to focus on his 2020 campaign for re-election.
Aberdeen’s party primaries will be held April 7, with the runoff date scheduled for April 21. If candidates run in different political parties and a general election is needed, it will be held May 5, which is the same day of the swearing-in ceremony.
According to a press release from auditor’s office, if Howard is convicted on all five embezzlement counts, he could face up to $25,000 in fines and 100 years in prison. Conviction would also prevent him from holding public office.
The press release continued to state all persons arrested by the office are innocent until proven guilty.