Odessa Johnson-embezzlement

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Former city clerk gets prison for embezzling

By Billy Davis

Former city clerk Odessa Johnson will serve two and a half years in prison for embezzling approximately $28,000 from the City of Sardis.

Circuit Judge Robert Chamberlin handed down the sentence late Thursday during a hearing in Hernando.
Johnson was represented by attorney Derrick Simmons of Greenwood.

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The former city clerk was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison and given 2 ½ years to serve, said Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale.

Hale said the state had asked for a five-year sentence and Simmons asked for probation for his client.

The circuit judge compared Johnson’s embezzlement case to a similar crime by a City of Southaven employee, and Johnson’s sentencing was comparable to that case, Hale told The Panolian.

The Southaven employee, a court clerk, was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison in 2010 for stealing approximately $109,000 over two years, according to press reports.  

Johnson was hired as city clerk in 2001 and resigned in 2009, when a state audit investigation alleged she had stolen from city government from 2006 to 2009.

Court documents alleged Johnson shorted or withheld approximately $13,470 from City of Sardis deposits into collections for water bills, court fines and property taxes.

The state investigation also alleged she embezzled four lease payments from Skipper Marine; stole six contributions from Springs Industries for the Sardis Police Department; and used the city’s credit card for personal use on three separate occasions.

The audit investigation claimed Johnson owed $45,496, which included $7,586 in interest and $9,876 in investigative costs.

According to Hale, Johnson had paid back about $9,000 in restitution but had stopped making payments after 2011.

Hale said Chamberlin observed that Johnson had stopped making restitution payments, and also noted the three-year span that she had stolen from city government, before he announced the sentence.  

“It wasn’t like she grabbed a deposit bag one time,” Hale said of the theft. “It went on for some time.”

City of Sardis attorney Tommy Shuler said Johnson was bonded, and ongoing work by the State Auditor’s Office suggests the city will recoup its money.

“We’re optimistic we’ll get the money back because of the bond,” Shuler told The Panolian.

Hale said a representative from the State Auditor’s Office was present at Johnson’s sentencing, where the defendant was served a demand letter from the state agency. The demand letter pertains to Johnson’s bond, he said.