by Holbrook Mohr, Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP)—A north Mississippi mayor accused of misusing taxpayer money on several purchases including at a Canadian sex shop was indicted Tuesday on one count each of embezzlement, false pretense and making fraudulent statements.
Southaven Mayor Greg Davis has been under scrutiny since November 2011, when the Mississippi Auditor’s office told him to repay $170,000 for allegedly improper billings, including travel, food, liquor and one bill for $67 at Priape, described on its website as “Canada’s premiere gay lifestyle store and sex shop.”
Authorities said Davis has paid back some of the money, but still owes about $73,000.
The charges in Tuesday’s indictment were related to a car purchase, city gas and a check from a city account. The FBI is also investigating Davis.
The indictment said Davis made fraudulent statements in February 2009, by claiming to have authorization to purchase a car that had been leased by the city. The second count alleges he used city gas in his personal car from February 2009 to January 2010. Count three, the false pretense charge, is related to a $1,000 check paid to Davis from a city account in March 2011.
Davis’ lawyer, Steve Farese, said Tuesday that the mayor will plead not guilty. Farese declined to comment further until he sees the evidence against Davis.
Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering said during a news conference in Jackson that the investigation continues and that Davis was booked and released on a $3,500 bond.
Pickering said Davis orchestrated the purchase of city car when the lease was up, paying about $11,000 for a vehicle valued at twice that amount. He also had the city reimburse him for an annual contribution to a political action committee that Davis never paid, Pickering said.
After the allegations of improper spending came to light, Davis announced that he is gay and said he and his wife had divorced. Some of the money that the auditor’s office ordered Davis to repay had been spent on counseling for Davis’ family.
Davis, a Republican, is in his fourth term as mayor of Southaven, a suburb of Memphis, Tenn., that has grown rapidly in recent years to become Mississippi’s third-largest city, after Jackson and Gulfport.
During a hearing in Hinds County in August, when Davis was fighting the auditor’s attempts to garnish his wages, the embattled mayor said he was being “persecuted.”
The Southaven Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 in January on a resolution asking Davis to resign, but the officials had no authority under Mississippi law to make him step down.
Alderman George Payne said Tuesday that the situation has been a distraction, but Davis can’t be forced from office unless he is convicted of crime or loses an election.
“Obviously it’s made things difficult for the city,” Payne said. “We’re just going to continue to do what we always do, move the city forward. We’re going to try our best to do that.”
Davis served in the state House before he was elected mayor and ran unsuccessfully for north Mississippi’s 1st District congressional seat in 2008. As a legislator and a congressional candidate, he talked frequently about being a fiscal conservative.