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‘Blatant corruption’: More than $115,000 taken from Missouri Bootheel town over four years

‘Blatant corruption’: More than $115,000 taken from Missouri Bootheel town over four years

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JEFFERSON CITY — The state auditor’s office said Wednesday that the former mayor and city clerk of the southeast Missouri town of Parma were “primarily responsible” for a four-year scheme during which $115,000 was “taken” from city coffers.

The report, requested by city officials after the home of former Mayor Tyus Byrd and city hall caught fire on April 16, 2019, found “at least $115,582 was taken fraudulently from the city.” The fires ignited the same day a new mayor for the town of 700 was sworn in.

The office said Byrd and then-City Clerk Helen Frye used prepaid debit cards and the city’s Walmart credit card to purchase gift cards, appliances, furniture and electronic equipment.

“For almost the entire time the former mayor and former city clerk were in office, there was a pattern of blatant corruption and cover-up that cost the citizens of Parma more than $115,000,” State Auditor Nicole Galloway said in a statement.

“This was a betrayal of the public trust that requires accountability, and my office will continue our partnership with law enforcement to pursue justice for local taxpayers,” said Galloway, a Democrat running for governor this year against Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican.

The release said the auditor’s office had been “working with” local, state and federal authorities for several months “about what was discovered during the audit.”

The release said Galloway’s office received a whistleblower tip in late 2018, and that the auditor’s office requested documents from Byrd. The release said Byrd provided some documents, but that the auditor’s office had to press for others.

The 151-page report found Byrd and Frye “falsified meeting minutes and financial reports to conceal the fraud,” according to a news release.

It said the fraud included “payroll overpayments and/or improper payments to the mayor, the city clerk, and to city officials and others who were related to the mayor or the city clerk.”

The audit also mentions “more than $7,000 in improperly recorded utility payments and adjustments to utility bills” affecting the accounts of Byrd, Byrd’s father, the water supervisor, an alderman and a church.

“The city’s electronic utility system was destroyed in the city hall fire,” the news release said, “but auditors were able to compile information for the audit from paper reports, bank statements and other documents.“

The release said Byrd and Frye “falsified Board of Aldermen meeting minutes and financial reports. The city clerk falsified cash balances of some bank accounts on financial reports.”’

Because Frye didn’t file and remit payroll taxes on time, the release said, “the city was assessed over $114,000 in past due taxes, interest and penalties.”

The New Madrid County Sheriff’s Department still is investigating the fires, the news release said. Byrd could not be reached on Wednesday.

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