Ex-city worker says guilty to embezzlement Barry Graham was TV23 boss

Published 12:05 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

Former TV23 Director Thomas “Barry” Graham was placed on five years of probation, fined $1,500 and ordered to pay approximately $30,000 in restitution to the city and state after pleading guilty Thursday afternoon to a felony embezzlement charge.

Accompanied by his attorney, Mack Varner, Graham did not address the court other than by replying “yes, sir,” and “no, sir,” to a series of questions from Circuit Judge M. James Chaney about his plea and the rights he was waiving, specifically the right to later change his admission and have a jury trial. Following the hearing, Graham declined comment as he quietly walked out of the courthouse with Varner.

“The misuse of public funds won’t be tolerated,” Mayor Paul Winfield said as he exited the hearing. “That was proven here today.”

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Winfield’s office contacted state officials in September about the apparent misuse of funds in the TV23 department in September, which triggered a full investigation. On Sept. 30, police and a state auditor’s office investigator seized speakers, amplifiers, microphones, a lighting system and CDs from Graham’s Goodrum Road home. He was placed on unpaid leave from his city duties five days later.

Graham, 56, was never arrested, formally charged or indicted. Instead, he admitted guilt based on information contained in the investigation report by the auditor. Had he been indicted and convicted by a jury, Graham faced up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Chaney did order a 10-year prison sentence for Graham, but with no time to be served. Representatives of the City of Vicksburg and the auditor’s office told the judge they agreed to the punishment recommended by District Attorney Ricky Smith.

Graham is to pay the city $21,714.59 for electronics and audio equipment he admitted buying with city funds between November 2009 and September 2009. In addition, Chaney ordered him to pay $4,455 to the city for interest on the stolen items. With court costs and the cost of the investigation factored in, total restitution owed is $30,882.37.

Chaney ordered Graham to pay $9,000 of the restitution within 30 days, and pay $385 per month beginning in September. The judge also ordered Graham to remain in Warren County so long as any fines, fees or restitution is owed.

Had Graham’s case gone to trial, Smith told the judge his office was prepared to show city invoices proving Graham had purchased a laptop computer, digital camera and digital picture frames, among “many other items.” Some of the items had been identified by Graham’s wife, he said.

Graham, also a former member of popular Vicksburg band The Chill, was fired by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen on July 9 at the request of Graham’s attorney. Varner said Graham wanted to be terminated so he could pursue retirement benefits he had accumulated in five years.

Along with managing TV23 operations, Graham had been responsible for handling city communications and advertising during his time at City Hall, among other duties.

John Howard Dennis, founding member of The Chill, has said the group owned and used its own equipment and had no knowledge of that seized from Graham’s home. He has also said Graham is no longer with the band.