As the city of Columbus was struggling financially, its Chief Financial Officer Milton Rawle Jr. was allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars — the largest municipal embezzlement case in the state auditor’s records.

State Auditor Shad White announced Tuesday that agents arrested Rawle, 49, on the Coast on Monday.

Rawle is accused of stealing nearly $290,000 from the city. White said the impact of such amounts missing on a city with a $33 million budget is profound.

“Mr. Rawle stole a great deal from the taxpayers of Columbus,” White said. “… Now it’s time for prosecutors to send him to prison and get the money back.”

Rawle was being held in the Lowndes County Jail on Tuesday morning and awaiting an initial court appearance, White said. Rawle faces up to 20 years in prison and $25,000 in fines if convicted. White issued a repayment demand for Rawle of nearly $355,000, which includes interest and investigative costs.

White and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith Sr. on Tuesday said that Wanda Holley, a certified public accountant performing a routine audit of the city, discovered the issue and notified city leaders, who contacted White’s office.

White said his office is legally prohibited from auditing Mississippi cities, so he relies on tips from private audit firms and government employee whistleblowers. He said suspected fraud can be reported to his office by “clicking the red button” at www.osa.ms.gov or via telephone during business hours at 1-(800)-321-1275.

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Geoff Pender

Geoff Pender

Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.