Auditor: More than $4M stolen from Mississippi welfare funds

Republican State Auditor Shad White, right, and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens discuss the auditor’s office investigation of the former director of Mississippi’s welfare agency and four other people, accused of embezzling millions in federal money meant for the poor, Feb. 6 in Jackson.

TUPELO • A proposal to subject the finances of the Mississippi Department of Human Services to strenuous examination has attracted some initial support among local legislators, but details remain fragmentary.

Auditor Shad White has called on state officials to authorize a more extensive audit of DHS, something White said would fall outside the capacities of his office.

“I am also calling on the Legislature to immediately require a full forensic audit of DHS by a competent private CPA firm,” White wrote on Twitter early this week. “My office cannot do an audit of that magnitude any time soon and still handle our normal duties.”

This follows the announcement last week of criminal charges of embezzlement and fraud against John Davis, who was DHS director from 2016 to 2019.

White claims that Davis and a number of conspirators diverted public money, including federal grant funds for the poor, and used that money for personal use.

State Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, said he has already discussed the idea with the auditor.

“He said something to me about it, about sponsoring a bill in the House,” said Boyd. “I feel we’ll sit down and talk about it.”

Other Northeast Mississippi lawmakers are supportive of the idea of taking a closer look at the DHS books, even if additional spending will be needed to contract with a private accounting firm.

“The forensic audit, I’m all about that, yessiree boss,” said Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn. “I don’t think that will be any problem. I think people will be eager to pass that.”

State Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford said, “At first glance, it seems like a needed and logical step to understand everything that happened and to make sure we don’t have this mistake happen ever again.”

In support of “making sure that the taxpayer is protected,” state Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, said he is broadly supportive of a close look at how DHS has been spending public dollars.

Even so, any potential efforts to bring closer scrutiny at DHS remains in the early stages. But White’s eye-popping charges of a multi-million dollar fraud scheme infecting the upper reaches of a state agency have certainly earned attention.

“Everyone is talking about it,” said Rep. Shane Aguirre, R-Tupelo. “It appears some shady business is going on.”

A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said the request for an audit would go through the committee process if such legislation is introduced in the state Senate.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com

Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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