Mayor Mary Ella Hixon, 91, pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing $201,000 from the south Alabama town she was the Mayor of for three decades.
Prosecutors said that the River Falls Mayor pleaded guilty to theft and resigned. In exchange, authorities dropped another felony ethics charge.
She was first sentenced by Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan 10 years in prison, but because of Hixon’s advanced age it was suspended. She must now spend five years on probation.
Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell said years of thefts left the city all but broke.
Hixon was order to repay the money, with her estate being help responsible if she dies before all the money is refunded.
The probe revealed Hixon has illegally transferred $201,610 in city money to others in the last three years, but the prosecutor said the thefts likely started long before.
Hixon, one of Alabama’s longest-serving mayors, was re-elected in August in River Falls. Located near the Florida line, River Falls has about 510 residents.
Authorities said police in a nearby town began investigating after it was reported in August about the city selling property to a middle-aged man living with Hixon.
A statement released by the police said city money went to her and her relatives; the man she lived with and his relatives and co-workers at a development company where the mayor also worked.
The statement showed the investigation grew to include a “concerned citizen” wearing a hidden recorder during a conversation in which Hixon admitted to illegal conduct, told the person what to say to police, and paid the man $525 to “keep him quiet.”
Hixon turned herself in Wednesday in a negotiated surrender and was released on bond without having to spend the night in jail before her court appearance. Although no one else has been charged, the investigation continues with the cooperation of Hixon.
Residents who long suspected wrongdoing in the town began talking to police soon after the investigation started. “We had quite a few citizens come forward with information they had held on to for years,” Merrel said. “They were reluctant to do so earlier for fear of being ostracized or because it was a proverbial ‘little old lady.’”