3 plead not guilty in election funds embezzlement case

March 9, 2022 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A county election official in Mississippi and two other people pleaded not guilty Tuesday in an embezzlement case investigated by the state auditor’s office.

Hinds County Election Commissioner Toni Johnson, along with Cedric Cornelius and Sudie Jones Teague, are charged with fraud, embezzlement and accepting a bribe, WAPT-TV reported.

A demand letter from Auditor Shad White said Johnson owes taxpayers more than $25,000.

Investigators said Teague owes $150,000, and Cornelius owes $216,000. Cornelius is accused of using his business to work with Johnson and get paid without working.

The auditor’s office said Cornelius’s company, Apogee Group II LLC, was awarded contracts to perform cleaning services, COVID-19 testing and voting machine audits for the Hinds County Election Commission, despite being registered as a “motion picture and video production” company.

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“This investigation into Ms. Johnson has been the worst kept secret in Jackson. If there was ever a time that she was going to (flee), it would be before the indictment was returned,” Lisa Ross, Johnson’s attorney, said Tuesday.

Special Judge Jess H. Dickinson set bond at $100,000, with an ankle monitor requirement for each defendant.

A Feb. 18 news release from the auditor’s office said Johnson allegedly used her position as an election commissioner to buy two 85-inch (2.16-meter) televisions and personal protective equipment, and had those delivered to her own home and one other home. The release said Johnson then allegedly purchased smaller, less expensive televisions as replacements for the larger TVs purchased by the Hinds County Election Commission.

Investigators said some of the stolen money came from $1.9 million in grants from Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit organization funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.