Moss Point Mayor Mario King resigned his office this morning shortly before appearing in federal court with his wife, Natasha King, where both pled guilty each to one federal felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Prosecutors charged that, after soliciting donations at a 2019 gala, the couple claimed the funds would support mental health programs in the Moss Point School District, but instead used the money for personal expenses, including the purchase of a car and to pay off debts related to the purchase of a purebred dog.
“I, Mario King, do hereby resign my position as Mayor of the City of Moss Point as Mayor of the City of Moss Point effective Tuesday, February 23, 2021,” the 33-year-old mayor wrote in a backdated letter that the City received at 8:46 this morning.
Soon after, the couple appeared before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden and entered their pleas.
‘They Are Not Above the Law. We Are Watching.’
The Moss Point Board of Aldermen called for King to resign in a letter last week after news broke that the couple planned to plead guilty. But in a statement today, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi said his resignation was part of a plea deal.
“As part of the plea agreement, Mayor King will immediately resign his position as Mayor of Moss Point. The plea agreement with Natasha King includes a recommended sentence of probation. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on May 26, 2021 and face up to five years on the conspiracy charge and a maximum fine of $250,000.”
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped 12 additional federal wire-fraud charges and one charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government that a grand jury also indicted the Kings for last summer.
Mississippi State Auditor Shad 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.
“I am pleased to see this case come to a conclusion. It’s an example of top-notch coordination between the Auditor’s office and federal authorities,” White said in a statement today. “Folks like Mr. King need to learn they are not above the law. We are watching.”
Along with investigating the Democratic Moss Point mayor, the Republican state auditor also led the investigation that resulted in the arrest of several top GOP donors last year.
In its announcement on the Kings’ plea, the U.S. The Justice Department noted that none of the funds raised for the 2019 gala made its way to the Moss Point School District.
“It was the understanding of those contributing to the Gala, either in the form of tickets purchased or contributions, that the proceeds from the Gala would go to the Moss Point School District. Some of the funds were used to pay for the cost of the Gala, but the remaining proceeds did not go to the Moss Point School District,” the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi said in a statement today.
Before the Gala, in 2018, the couple set up a limited liability corporation, Rejuvenate, LLC, that they later used to deposit or transfer donations they received for the gala. As mayor, King often spoke of the need to “rejuvenate” the Gulf Coast town.
“I’m so excited for today and the turnout. We felt this was a way to bring everyone in the city together to show the progress our administration is leading, and we want the city to see, feel and contribute to the rejuvenation of our city,” GulfLive.com reported King saying at the city’s 2018 “Rejuvenation Festival.”
Before reaching a plea agreement, the Kings faced up to 20 years in prison on the original 13 federal charges.
Moss Point Appoints New Mayor
In a special meeting this afternoon, the Moss Point Board of Aldermen confirmed Robert Byrd, the Ward 3 alderman and mayor pro-tem, as the Jackson County city’s new leader.
Under Mississippi law, Moss Point does not have to hold a special election to fill the seat because the vacancy occurred less than six months before June’s municipal elections; King had already opted out of running for a second term before his resignation today.
Absentee voting for the party primaries for Moss Point’s municipal elections, as in other cities statewide, began on Feb. 22 and will continue until April 3. The primary election is April 6, followed by the general election on June 8.
The Sun Herald is providing a list of mayoral candidates for Moss Point and other coastal towns on its website.