HINDS COUNTY, Miss. (WJTV) – Hinds County Election Commissioner Toni Johnson and a Hinds County resident have been arrested by special agents from the State Auditor’s Office.
State Auditor Shad White said Johnson and Cedric Cornelius, a Hinds County resident, were both indicted on multiple charges. Special agents from his office also delivered demand letters to them showing they collectively owe nearly $250,000 back to Hinds County taxpayers.
“My office will always enforce the law, regardless of who the perpetrators are,” said White. “I want to thank the dedicated investigators and prosecutors whose work got us here.”
Johnson is accused of fraud, embezzlement, and accepting a bribe. She allegedly used her position as a member of the Hinds County Election Commission (HCEC) to purchase two 85-inch televisions and personal protective equipment (PPE). White said Johnson had the items delivered to her own home and one other private residence.
While said Johnson concealed the scheme by allegedly purchasing smaller, less expensive televisions as “replacements” for the larger televisions purchased by HCEC. Johnson’s demand letter shows she owes $25,893.8 back to taxpayers, which includes interest and investigative costs added to the $16,000 cost of the property HCEC purchased.
Cornelius has been also indicted for conspiracy, bribery, and fraud. He allegedly used his company, Apogee Group II, LLC, to work with Johnson to be paid without work being performed. The company was awarded contracts to perform cleaning services, COVID-19 testing, and voting machine audits for HCEC despite being registered as a “motion picture and video production” company. A $216,227.28 demand letter was issued to Cornelius when he was arrested.
According to White, a portion of the money allegedly obtained by Johnson and Cornelius came from $1.9 million in grants awarded to Hinds County by the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit organization funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
“These cases expose some of the dangers of private funding of our elections,” said White. “They also represent another chapter in the story of fraud that has resulted from the massive amount of COVID-related spending in the last two years.”
Both Johnson and Cornelius were arrested Friday morning and taken to the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond. Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones confirmed Johnson was being held at the jail.
“We are not the arresting agency so I can’t confirm the charges at this time. Any further information should be directed to the State Auditor’s Office,” said Jones.
According to the State Auditor’s Office, the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office and the Clinton Police Department assisted with the arrests. The court is responsible for setting a bail amount.
If convicted, the defendants face prison time and thousands of dollars in fines. The case will be prosecuted by the office of Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens.
In July 2021, Johnson resigned from her position as the chair of the election commission. During that time, Johnson had been accused of possible fraud and mishandling of money.
Suspected fraud can be reported to the Auditor’s office online any time by clicking the red button at www.osa.ms.gov or via telephone during normal business hours at 1-(800)-321-1275.