Jefferson County gets $200K back from Harris

Published 12:01 am Friday, February 29, 2008

FAYETTE — At least some of the funds embezzled by former Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Burnell Harris were returned to the people of Jefferson County Thursday.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering presented the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors with a $200,000 check from the bond collected on Harris’ behalf.

Harris was convicted in July of three counts of embezzlement, two counts of money laundering and four counts of tax evasion.

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Harris embezzled more than $222,000, and was sentenced to 72 months in prison and $447,086.07 in restitution.

Crimes committed by an elected official are a violation of public trust, Pickering said.

“These tax dollars are the hard earned money of the taxpayers,” Pickering said.

“I want to send the message to government officials and those employees working in state and local government that we will investigate and go after any misappropriation of funds,” he said.

Pickering thanked everyone who helped with the investigation.

“We could never take the case all the way through without the cooperation of local elected officials and federal agencies,” Pickering said.

The matter was investigated by the auditor’s office, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Justice.

IRS Special Agent Michael De Palma, who worked on the case, said the commission of such crimes would not be tolerated.

“We will investigate those crimes vigorously,” De Palma said.

Receiving the funds will definitely have an effect on Jefferson County, Supervisor Trent Hudson said.

“Jefferson County is a poor county, and we don’t have a lot of jobs,” Hudson said. “The county just operates off of the tax base, so this will have a tremendous impact.”

Harris served as the circuit clerk from 1984 until his sentencing in October 2007. He lost a bid for re-election in August.