Princeville mayor arrested on embezzlement charges

jfrank@newsobserver.comAugust 7, 2013 

PRINCEVILLE-NE-040313-TEL

A utility payment boy is taped shut and the doors to city hall are locked mid-day Wednesday, April 3, 2013, in Princeville. The State Treasurer's Office took over Princeville's finances in 2012. The city was devastated by floods from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

State Bureau of Investigation agents arrested the mayor of the historic town of Princeville on Wednesday, charging her with 17 counts of embezzlement related to questionable purchases made with the town’s credit card.

Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates turned herself into authorities two days after an Edgecombe County grand jury indicted her for spending about $5,600 in taxpayer money on expenses unrelated to town business, such as restaurants, travel and late payment fees, according to court records. She was released after posting $7,500 bond.

Everette-Oates’ attorney, Malvern King of Durham, said she would plead not guilty. “She intends ... to prove her innocence in court,” he said in an interview.

The indictment represents the latest troubles for the small town in eastern North Carolina, the oldest in the nation chartered by blacks.

The state seized control of Princeville’s finances in July 2012 and still manages its money under a little-known state agency called the Local Government Commission. A spokesman for the State Treasurer’s office, which oversees the commission, said there is no timetable for returning control.

“The town’s finances are still not where they need to be, but the Local Government Commission is laying a strong foundation for fiscal stability in Princeville’s future,” spokesman Schorr Johnson said in a statement.

This is the second time the state has taken control in Princeville, which received national attention after Hurricane Floyd’s flood waters in 1999 nearly swept it from the map. Other former officials also face questions about town spending and the town’s interim manager at one point took out a restraining order against a Princeville commissioner.

But the deep-seated problems came into focus in April when a state audit showed more than $11,000 in questionable spending on town-owned credit cards. The mayor’s card included about $8,000 worth of expenses from 2010 to 2012 that didn’t include proper documentation. The audit called them “an unnecessary and imprudent use of town funds.”

The 17 credit card expenses in the charges of embezzlement by a public official overlap with the state audit but the amounts don’t align exactly.

Maintaining her charges were legitimate, Everette-Oates in July said state officials were “trying to frame us,” according to the local newspaper, The Daily Southerner. The mayor has blamed the previous administration and “witchcraft” for the town’s woes.

Three people have filed to challenge her in the November municipal elections.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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