Former Moss Point, Miss., Mayor Mario King will serve 30 months in prison and spend three years on probation, a federal judge in Gulfport decided today. King and his wife, Natasha King, pled guilty to wire- fraud charges in February after a grand jury indicted them last year.
The June 2020 indictment alleged that, after the Jackson County couple raised funds in 2019 that should have gone to a mental-health program for the Moss Point School District, they instead “used the proceeds for personal purchases, including the down payment on the purchase of a vehicle, cash withdrawals and credit card debts to complete the purchase” of a pedigreed pet.
The judge, Sul Ozerden, also sentenced Natasha King to probation. WLOX reported that the couple entered the courtroom today with Mario King holding their young son.
“The King Case came to our office when a whistleblower approached me many months ago. We then began working closely across state and federal entities to move the case forward,” Mississippi State Auditor Shad White said in a statement today. “It’s good to see the case come to a conclusion today. This should be a lesson to every politician: you cannot lie and defraud the public of money.”
Before reaching a plea agreement, the Kings faced up to 20 years in prison on 13 federal charges that prosecutors reduced to one each. Mario King resigned his office in February, and the Moss Point Board of Aldermen confirmed Robert Byrd, who was the Ward 3 alderman and mayor pro-tem, as the Jackson County city’s new leader. City voters elected him to a full term in June.
Auditor White’s office investigated the Kings with the help of federal officials, including former U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and Special Agent in Charge Michelle A. Sutphin of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Auditor Brought Arrests of Top GOP Donors
Along with investigating the Democratic Moss Point mayor, White, a Republican, also led the investigation that resulted in the arrest of several top GOP donors last year. State and federal prosecutors have charged that mother-and-son duo Nancy and Zachary New, who owned and operated a network of private schools in the state, fraudulently obtained millions in state dollars that should have gone to poor families and public education.
Nancy New founded New Learning Resources, Inc., and Zachary New was the company’s vice president. Since 1997, the for-profit corporation has operated multiple private schools for children with special needs, including the New Summit School in Jackson. The 2020 investigation also resulted in the arrest of John Davis, the former Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
They both pleaded not guilty to 17 charges earlier this year. Last week, a federal grand jury added new counts of aggravated identity theft to the News’ list of charges, adding to a list that already included money laundering, fraud and conspiracy. Gov. Reeves, who filmed a pro-public education ad in the News’ private school for his 2019 campaign and accepted donations from the News, disavowed them last year.
White said on July 15 that his office was “continuing to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our federal partners to advance this case,” calling the additional indictments “another step toward justice for the taxpayers.”
White Drew Fire for Professor Targeting
While the auditor has earned some cross-partisan good will for his probes of the News and the Kings, he has also drawn criticism for his at-times partisan expressions on social media. His decision to use taxpayer dollars to investigate a left-wing University of Mississippi sociology professor for participating in an anti-racism strike last year also sparked controversy, with one critic calling it “recycled McCarthyism.”
White has insisted that his approach to the job is apolitical, though. After former Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to fill the vacant role in 2018, he told the Delta Business Journal that he had “learned there will be people who bend or break the rules.”
“It doesn’t matter what party they are in. Someone has to hold them accountable,” he said at the time.
The auditor reiterated that theme earlier this year after the Kings pleaded guilty to wire fraud. “Folks like Mr. King need to learn they are not above the law,” White said. “We are watching.”