A 91-year-old south Alabama mayor has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $200,000 from the city she leads. River Falls mayor Mary Hixon turned herself in to authorities Wednesday.
The District Attorney's office confirmed that Hixon, who has been in office for more than 30 years, pleaded guilty to one count of theft of property in the first degree Thursday morning.
Hixon resigned as mayor and was sentenced to five years in prison, though that prison time was suspended because she cooperated with the investigation and because of her age. She is required to pay back the stolen funds. Her estate will remain responsible should she die before the refund is made in full.
The news has no doubt shocked the town of River Falls, a town with a population of around 500 people near the Florida state line.
"It is the talk of the town. Waiting to see what happens next," says Tina Chandler, who works at Gary's Cafe in River Falls.
She admits she has been suspicious of Mayor Mary Hixon for a while.
"Just a lot of people talking. You hear people talk here and there. Little things that go on and it just makes you wonder," adds Chandler.
According to an affidavit, an article published by the Andalusia Star News on August 18, 2012 regarding town property being sold by Mayor Hixon to Richard Moss, a man who lives with her, spawned the investigation.
The Opp Police Department began looking into the matter at the request of the District Attorney and uncovered a massive theft of public funds.
The investigation found that Hixon used the money to pay the salary, approximately $20,000, of Charlie Calloway. Calloway, an employee of HCH Development, is said to have "provided no services to the Town of River Falls for this salary." Hixon was also said to be associated with the company, and listed as an employee.
From October 2009 to present, Hixon used public funds totaling more than $3,000 to pay electric bills at Conecuh Feed and Bait, owned by Richard Moss, as well as more than $10,000 on electricity at the house rented where she lived with Moss.
The investigation also revealed that Moss was earning a salary of $450 per week as a "nighttime policeman" for River Falls, though he had no such official capacity with the town. His pay? More than $80,000.
In June of 2010, Moss's Coffee County-issued police vehicle was involved in a wreck, which Moss reported to the County Sheriff as damaged by the "garbage man" in River Falls. While no police report existed documenting the wreck, Mayor Hixon issued a check to the Coffee County Commission for more than $1,7000 to pay for the damages.
The mayor kept vehicles not owned by the town in working order by paying for repair service with town funds to the total of approximately $800.
Authorities say the mayor also wrote checks to town citizens who would cash and then return to her the money. The amount from those fraudulent transactions totaled more than $20,000.
Even the mayor's daughter was mentioned in the affidavit, said to have been illegally hired to handle the town's water works billing.
The affidavit says all the listed allegations against Mayor Hixon were supported by facts including bank records and a "concerned citizen" wearing a hidden audio recording device. The person met with the mayor, who incriminated herself. The mayor then paid the citizen $525 to "keep him quiet".
"It's a hard pill to swallow," says Chandler.
Some locals don't believe the story ends there. They think there could be more evidence of misappropriated funds. Officials say the investigation is ongoing.
"We're going to continue to look at that and of course along the way if we find more evidence of other people involved then we will pursue those arrests and prosecutions as well," says Merrell.
WSFA 12 News reached out to Hixon's attorney. He preferred not to make a statement.