Lowndes County Supervisor Leroy Brooks and seven former supervisors illegally donated more than $85,000 to a nonprofit headed by Brooks, according to a circuit court ruling in Lowndes County, Monday.
The Board of Supervisors donated general funds to the African-American Culture Organization from 1993 to 2000, giving the community group between $7,500 and $18,000 each fiscal year.
The AACO was not required to submit its annual financial records to the IRS because it had an operating budget of less than $25,000 per year. The organization sponsors the annual Juneteenth celebration and supports several theater productions in the area, Brooks explained.
The board”s insurance company, United States Fidelity & Guaranty, repaid the county in October 2005. USF&G filed a civil lawsuit in 2007 after the supervisors refused to pay the claims of more than $100,000.
Supervisors did not pay the claims because they told the company not to repay the county, said Brooks, who represents District 5.
Fifth District Circuit Court Judge C.E. Morgan III gave a summary judgment Monday, siding with USF&G.
Sixteenth Circuit Court judges recused themselves from the case.
According to the judgment, Brooks is responsible for $25,194.40; Mitchell Wiggins for $14,870.08; Artis Neal and Joe Brooks for $12,286.10 each; Murray Anthony, Dwight Colson and Walton Willis for $10,324.33 each; and Johnny McCrary for $5,599.73, to be paid to USF&G. Wiggins is deceased.
“That”s public money they were spending,” said Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders. “Leroy (Brooks) should be in jail.”
Brooks declined to comment on the ruling until he spoke with his attorney, Jason Merchant. However, he did say he did not do anything unethical or illegal.
“What happened was just the auditor”s interpretation of the law,” he added.
The law Brooks referred to is found in Section 39-15-1 of the Mississippi Code Annotated, which says the governing board of a county can use general funds “to match any other funds available for the purpose of supporting the development, promotion and coordination of the arts” within the county. The law was referenced in a 2006 attorney general opinion requested by Brooks.
According to the court order, there was no evidence that any of the donations had matching funds.
Brooks said he and the other supervisors will consider appealing the ruling.
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