How Two Women Allegedly Stole Nearly $1 Million From a Cash-Strapped College

Coahoma Community College
Coahoma Community College in Mississippi had nearly $1 million embezzled, allegedly by two employees, officials said. Google

Mississippi's Coahoma Community College, located in the impoverished Delta region, didn't have money to spare due to significant drops in state funding in recent years. Yet two women who worked at the college allegedly stole almost $1 million through crafty embezzlement that occurred over four years, officials said.

In one of the state's largest employee theft cases in decades, officials allege that former Coahoma Community College employees Gwendolyn Jefferson and Stacie Neal managed to take more than $750,000 (now valued at $981,000 including interest and investigative costs) between 2013 and 2017 to purchase items for themselves including watches, shoes, and a chandelier.

The median annual household income in Coahoma County, Mississippi $28,217 and the poverty rate is 35 percent.

The women worked together to use multiple government procurement cards to purchase gift cards from local Kroger and Wal-Mart stores and Amazon to "do whatever they wanted with them," said White, according to mississippitoday.org.

Authorities said the two former employees managed to steal so much money for their own personal use because they worked together in a purchasing department, doctoring books to cover their tracks. Both of the former employees accused of embezzlement have been terminated from the college, a school spokesman said, according to mississippitoday.org.

"The institution will make a conscientious effort to recover all monies that were taken from CCC," Marriel Hardy, Chief Communications Officer for CCC, told the news agency. "The College has implemented enhanced accountability controls in order to decrease the likelihood of these unfortunate behaviors happening in the future."

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White announced the findings of an investigation into the embezzlement during a news conference held at the Coahoma County Courthouse late Monday. He said the former employees accused "bought watches, shoes, a chandelier and other items which totaled to $750,000 in purchases," mississippitoday.org reported.

"The final tab, $981,600 – the largest individual demand coming from the auditor's office in the last five years and the third largest individual demand over 20 years – includes principal, interest, and investigative costs."

Coahoma Community College rescinded pay raises for employees and raised tuition in 2017 due to state budget cuts.

"It's heartbreaking," White said, according to WREG.com. "It makes you angry on some levels and it makes you want to hold them accountable. You think of all of the Mississippians who don't get to spend nearly $1 million tax-free on top of their salary they are being paid."

The embezzlement scheme was undetected for years at the community college but a slip-up tipped off officials who notified authorities.

"These are red flags and a lot of the red flags are people who make this sorta salary, but live a much higher lifestyle," White said.

White said it isn't wise for an office to have one person handling all purchasing functions. They should be separated, he said, so multiple people are looking at them.