Small-town Missouri mayor, 6 others face charges

The mayor of a small southeast Missouri town and a top county official are among seven men accused of submitting false invoices to the commission of one of the poorest counties in the state and splitting the money.

Hayti Mayor Bobby Watkins, 39, is charged with theft. Pemiscot County’s supervisor of roads and bridges, Martin Culver, 39, is accused of one count of theft and 10 counts of forgery. Five other men also face theft and forgery charges. Three of those men worked for Culver in the county’s road and bridges department. The other two suspects are businessmen in the Hayti area.

All seven men were arrested Monday following a lengthy investigation, and all have been released on bond.

Phone calls to Watkins’ home on Tuesday went unanswered. He remains as mayor. The Hayti city attorney and a lawyer for Culver did not return messages seeking comment.

Pemiscot County Clerk Pam Treece said she didn’t know how much money the county lost as a result of the crimes but the amount was substantial. Pemiscot County Sheriff Tommy Greenwell said it was enough to deal a significant blow to the cash-strapped county. An audit released by the Missouri auditor’s office in September found that poor budgeting practices have made the county’s financial condition even worse.

Hayti, a town of about 3,000 residents, is in the Missouri Bootheel region, about 190 miles south of St. Louis. The city said in a statement it had little information but there was no evidence that city funds were misappropriated.

Greenwell said the crimes allegedly occurred over the past three years. He declined to discuss specific details while the investigation continued.

All four county employees resigned in late October or early November, Treece said. Culver also resigned his position as an alderman in Hayti.

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