Mississippi News

Fraud, embezzlement conspiracy at Hinds County Election Commission

Election commissioner, business owner accused of embezzling over $200,000

State Auditor Shad White announced Special Agents from his office have arrested Hinds County Election Commissioner Toni Johnson and Hinds County resident Cedric Cornelius after both were indicted on multiple charges. Special Agents also delivered demand letters to them showing they collectively owe nearly $250,000 back to Hinds County taxpayers.

“My office will always enforce the law, regardless of who the perpetrators are,” said Auditor White. “I want to thank the dedicated investigators and prosecutors whose work got us here.”

Johnson is accused of fraud, embezzlement, and accepting a bribe. She allegedly used her position as a member of the Hinds County Election Commission (HCEC) to purchase two 85-inch televisions and personal protective equipment (PPE), which she purportedly had delivered to her own home and one other private residence. To conceal this scheme, she allegedly purchased smaller, less expensive televisions as “replacements” for the larger televisions purchased by HCEC. Johnson’s demand letter shows she owes $25,893.8 back to taxpayers, which includes interest and investigative costs added to the $16,000 cost of the property HCEC purchased.

Cornelius has also been indicted for conspiracy, bribery, and fraud. He allegedly used his company—Apogee Group II, LLC—to work with Toni Johnson to be paid without work being performed. The company was awarded contracts to perform cleaning services, COVID-19 testing, and voting machine audits for HCEC despite being registered as a “motion picture and video production” company. A $216,227.28 demand letter was issued to Cornelius when he was arrested.

A portion of the money allegedly obtained by these individuals came from $1.9 million in grants awarded to Hinds County by the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL)—a nonprofit organization funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. This organization gave over $350 million to election offices across the country during the 2020 election season according to the Wall Street Journal.

“These cases expose some of the dangers of private funding of our elections,” said Auditor White. “They also represent another chapter in the story of fraud that has resulted from the massive amount of COVID-related spending in the last two years.”

Both individuals were arrested this morning and transported to the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond. The Hinds County Sheriff’s Office and Clinton Police Department assisted with the arrest. The court is responsible for setting a bail amount.

If convicted, the defendants face many years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The case will be prosecuted by the office of Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens.

“The Hinds County District Attorney’s Office looks forward to working with the State Auditor Shad White and his dedicated team to end public corruption in Mississippi,” said District Attorney Owens. “The misuse of government funds designed to aid the citizens of Hinds County will not be tolerated by our office and those who break the law will be prosecuted.”

No surety bond covers either of the defendants or their alleged crimes. Surety bonds are similar to insurance designed to protect taxpayers from corruption. Both Johnson and Cornelius will remain liable for the full amount of the demand in addition to criminal proceedings.

Suspected fraud can be reported to the Auditor’s office online any time by clicking the red button at www.osa.ms.gov or via telephone during normal business hours at 1-(800)-321-1275.

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