County Compensation

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2012

State Auditor Stacey Pickering (right) passes a check to county supervisors (from left) John Thomas, Kelly Morris and James Birge to endorse. The state auditor’s office recovered the funds from David Chandler, the former county administrator. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

County gets compensation from former administrator

By Billy Davis
State Auditor Stacey Pickering announced Wednesday that David Chandler, the former county administrator, will be sentenced in May following his plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The state auditor came to Batesville on related state business: he presented a check for $85,867 to Panola County government to conclude a state investigation of Chandler.

The money represents a portion of $229,427 that Pickering’s office has recovered from the pockets of the former administrator, Pickering said.

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More than half the funds, $126,487, went to the Public Employees Retirement System after it was learned Chandler had defrauded the state retirement system.

Panola County’s portion included $76,356 for “salary overpayment” and $9,939 also owed to county government, according to a press release from Pickering’s office.  

The state auditor’s office also recouped approximately $18,600 for investigative costs and interest.

The state auditor later explained Chandler was bonded but the former administrator, rather than the insurance company, repaid the funds.

Chandler was working for the state auditor’s office when he was hired in 1987 as Panola County’s first administrator. His annual salary was $96,756 when he retired in 2008.

Around the courthouse, reports were swirling that Chandler was the target of federal and state investigations when Pickering’s office announced 15 months ago it was demanding repayments from Chandler — the first public hint that the former administrator was under investigation.

Eleven months after Pickering’s announcement, Chandler was pleading guilty to mail fraud and embezzlement in federal court in Oxford.

Chandler’s court appearance finally revealed a secretive investigation that was ongoing for at least three years. State and federal agencies alleged that Chandler used his public office to engage in a variety of pocket-lining schemes — secretly creating a company to collect unpaid Solid Waste fees, and receiving kickbacks from a Madison County insurance agent and construction workers.

An assistant U.S. attorney told the court that Chandler pocketed approximately $25,920 in faked overtime and made $33,564 from bogus construction projects.

Courtroom testimony also suggested that Chandler personally profited by selling his Batesville home below market value to Roland Butler, the owner of never-opened Rolando Foods.

Sentencing for embezzlement and mail fraud could net Chandler 30 years in prison and $500,000 in fines, though his cooperation with federal prosecutors is expected to help him at sentencing.

In March, Chandler testified against businessman Lee Garner and Ray Shoemaker, a former Tri-Lakes Medical Center executive, alleging he was paid $268,000 in a bribery scheme at the hospital.

The trial pitted the federal government’s star witness against several defense attorneys who attacked Chandler’s credibility. But the jury found Shoemaker guilty on 10 counts and Garner on four of a 12-count indictment. Both await sentencing while their attorneys appeal.  

Pickering held the press conference in the county boardroom in Batesville where he formally signd the check that was passed to county supervisors — James Birge, John Thomas, and Board President Kelly Morris — for them to endorse.

“This is a long time coming,” Pickering said while TV cameras from Memphis news stations zoomed in on the check.