A Mississippi mayor resigned Wednesday after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiring to defraud the federal government.
Mario King had been Moss Point’s mayor since 2017. Prosecutors said he and his wife, Natasha R. King, raised money for mental health programs in schools but spent it on themselves for expenses that included car payments and the purchase of a pet dog.
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Each had been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and 13 counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud. The Sun Herald reported that the couple appeared Wednesday in federal court in Gulfport and each pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy.
WLOX-TV reported that U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden read the charge aloud and prosecutors said they had evidence. Mario King stood and said, “Guilty, your honor.” Natasha King said only one word: “Guilty.”
Mario King, a Democrat, did not file to seek reelection this year.
The U.S. attorney’s office said in a news release that Natasha King’s plea agreement includes a recommended sentence of probation. Mario King faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for both is set for May 26.
According to an indictment that was issued June 10 and unsealed July 10, Mario King and Natasha King began soliciting money in late 2018 for a March 23, 2019, event in Moss Point. A solicitation said the “gala honors and supports organizations that are making a difference for the mental health community. Proceeds support the efforts of mental health in the City of Moss Point with a focus on the Moss Point School District, converting spaces into a therapeutic and innovative learning environment.”
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The indictment said the mayor and his wife made a local television appearance to promote the event.
The indictment said some of the money raised paid for expenses of the gala, but the rest did not go to the Moss Point School District. Prosecutors said the Kings used money raised by the gala for personal purchases, including the down payments to buy vehicles, cash withdrawals and the payment of credit card debts to buy a Biewer terrier from a veterinary clinic in Hattiesburg.
Moss Point has a population of about 13,350. It is in coastal Jackson County, near the Alabama state line. The city has a poverty rate of about 22%, according to the Census.
Moss Point Mayor Pro Tempore Robert Byrd will be acting mayor until aldermen choose someone to serve the rest of the term that ends in June. State law does not require a special election with less than six months left in a term.
The Associated Press contributed to this article