Ben Allen is a former city councilman and president of Downtown Jackson Partners, which oversees the downtown business-improvement district.
Photo by Trip Burns.
JACKSON UPDATE: The Hinds County Circuit Clerk's office just confirmed that Ben Allen was indicted today, saying the document would be ready first thing tomorrow. The indictment was not on file mid-day today when we inquired. WJTV is reporting that Allen was indicted for embezzlement, but his executive committee issued a statement backing him up, saying an internal investigation had cleared him of wrong-doing, and that the accusations were leveled by a disgruntled employee, whom the board accuses of embezzling.
Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering earlier released the following statement, reprinted verbatim:
Recent actions by Robert Shuler Smith, District Attorney of Hinds County, are unprecedented, unfounded and beyond explanation. In a rush to further his own agenda or personal vendettas, he led a Hinds County Grand Jury to take unjust and wrong actions. I am confident that at the end of the day, David Huggins and Karei McDonald, the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of State Auditor’s Investigations Division, will be exonerated. These individuals have served the State of Mississippi with distinction for years in law enforcement and their integrity has never been in question.
• In October 2015, the Hinds County District Attorney issued a subpoena for the files of an investigation that was not complete. This action has never been taken by a prosecutor in Mississippi that we can find.
• Karei McDonald and a second investigator met with Robert Shuler Smith personally to review the subpoenaed files and reports on October 21, 2015. Smith personally signed a hand receipt for those files and agreed to allow the Office of State Auditor to continue working to complete the investigation
• A letter from Karei McDonald was sent to Smith on October 27, 2015 to clarify and restate the discussions and actions agreed to at the October 21 meeting (see attached).
• When it was communicated that the District Attorney was not satisfied, State Auditor Stacey Pickering requested a meeting with Robert Shuler Smith to resolve any misunderstandings or problems between the two offices. Smith canceled the meeting and refused to meet with Auditor Pickering.
• From that point forward, DA Smith began contacting, coaching and ultimately calling OSA staff before the Hinds County Grand Jury.
I am calling on District Attorney Smith to rethink his recent actions and to move to have the indictments against Director Huggins and Deputy Director McDonald dismissed.
UPDATE: The Downtown Jackson Partners' Executive Committee just released this verbatim statement in response to this developing controversy:
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF DOWNTOWN JACKSON PARTNERS ISSUES THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT CONCERNING DOWNTOWN JACKSON PARTNERS PRESIDENT BEN ALLEN:
From his service as a Jackson City Councilman to his leadership as President of Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP), Ben Allen has conducted himself with complete integrity and honesty. He has shown an unparalleled commitment to the city of Jackson and the Central Business District.
The charges lack any basis in fact and are instead an apparent effort to tarnish the reputation of one of Jackson’s most dedicated and law-abiding public servants. This action is also a false indictment of the entire Downtown Jackson business and residential community that has worked tirelessly to transform and improve the Central Business District.
These allegations arise from a disgruntled former DJP employee who was found to have embezzled $40,000 from the organization. Despite a criminal complaint filed last year with the Jackson Police Department by DJP and Trustmark National Bank, no action has been taken by the District Attorney to prosecute this former employee. In addition, a civil lawsuit against the former employee was filed last year in the County Court of Madison County by DJP to recover the embezzled funds.
DJP fully cooperated with an investigation and audit of its operations conducted more than a year ago by the Office of State Auditor, in which all requested documents were made available. At the same time, the DJP Board of Directors commissioned its own independent investigation and audit that found DJP and its staff to be in full compliance with all requirements, rules and laws.
The Executive Committee of Downtown Jackson Partners stands unanimously behind our President Ben Allen and intends not to simply defend against these baseless allegations, but to vigorously fight to ensure that Mr. Allen is fully cleared in this matter.
Vice Chair Ted Duckworth
Laura Lamar, Chair
Hilda Stauss Owen
Secretary Leland Speed, Chairman Emeritus
Sylvia Stewart, Treasurer
David Watkins, Past Chair