Fernandina Beach News Leader
County employee confessed theft
By Benjamin Price, News-Leader
A longtime Nassau County employee confessed to years of embezzling money from the county a week before she took her own life April 29.
Julie Mixon, a finance supervisor in the clerk of court's office, told state investigators she used some of the more than $1 million she stole to gamble in Las Vegas, Biloxi, Miss., and Tunica, Miss.
Whether the county may be able to recover any of the embezzled funds through seizure of Mixon's assets remains undetermined. The county also could be liable to pay the state a portion of the stolen funds, which included money collected for traffic citations.
There remain questions about why and how Mixon was able to steal that much money - sometimes $4,000 a day - over a five-year period.
"We have no motive," Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator Dominick Pape said at a Thursday press conference. "We have no reason to think it was a gambling addiction."
"First time was a favor, kind of, that someone had asked if there was any way. I helped out people when they were in, when they had financial and medical problems, and I will say that I profited from it also," Mixon told an FDLE investigator in an interview that was taped. She describes to the investigator how she stole the cash and covered up the transaction.
Mixon, a longtime Fernandina Beach resident, lived an unpretentious lifestyle that did not reveal spending more than a million dollars.
Clerk of Court John Crawford, who fired Mixon after taking office in January, blamed a lack of oversight and checks and balances in the office for allowing the theft to stay undiscovered so long.
"She held the key to the kingdom - by herself," he said.
The clerk's office has revamped its internal accounting procedures since discovery of the theft, and the county's contract with its external auditor will be reviewed.
Mixon, 56, had worked in the clerk's office since 1981 when she was fired in February. She was interviewed by FDLE agents on April 22, when she confessed to embezzling funds at the office since 1996. (Her son, Josh Mixon, was murdered in a widely publicized incident in 1997.)
Seven days after the confession, she checked into the Best Western Inn in Jacksonville, where her body was discovered on May 1 with a gunshot wound to the chest. Her death was ruled a suicide.
Pape said FDLE did not make an arrest immediately following Mixon's confession because it wanted to verify her claims.
"At that point it was basically a one-sided story," he said. "We wanted to look deeper."
No other current or former clerk's employees are now suspected of embezzling funds or assisting Mixon.
Pape also said Mixon gave no indication that she was suicidal following the confession.
Pape said disposition of the funds was "mostly unknown" but if the pursuit of Mixon's assets reveals any involvement by others who were "knowingly hiding or spending stolen assets," FDLE will consider opening another investigation.
But he said how the money was spent may never be known.
"You may never get the answer of where the money's gone," he said. "We may never know."
The FDLE reviewed documents spanning October 1999 to February 2005, due to a five-year statute of limitations. That investigation revealed about $875,000 in missing funds.
However, Crawford said an ongoing and separate investigation by the outside auditing firm Berman, Hopkins, Wright & LaHam CPAs LLP has found more than $1 million in missing funds. So far, that investigation goes back to 1998, but Crawford said it will continue to 1996 and earlier and may include other accounts not yet investigated.
Pape said FDLE's investigation revealed "an embezzlement scheme" involving cash deposits Mixon handled which she was to transfer to a courier.
"At that point money was removed," Pape said. "It was basically cash."
He said most of the stolen money was for traffic tickets and citations.
State agents established that revenue for the clerk's office was counted and recounted several times but that the final deposit slip was reviewed by Mixon, who sealed the bag containing the receipts.
Annual audits by the county's outside auditor, Farmand, Farmand & Farmand, did not uncover the theft.
Crawford said shortly after he took office in January a certified public accountant was put into the position formerly held by Mixon. The CPA discovered "financial irregularities" which quickly rose into the thousands of dollars, and the office contacted law enforcement.
Crawford fired Mixon about a month before the FDLE agents began a "preliminary investigation."
Crawford said he did not confront Mixon about his suspicions, but Mixon told the investigator she felt "panic" at that time.
"(I) knew eventually it would be caught up with. But I was hoping that it wouldn't be," she said. "And things would get on the straight and narrow."
Crawford confirmed the county is still using Farmand, Farmand & Farmand, and changing that will be up to the Nassau County Commission.
"But I can tell you we'll be looking at that," he said.