BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The former mayor of Caswell Beach is going to prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Brunswick Beach Consortium.
“Harry Simmons used taxpayers money for his own corrupt personal enrichment,” Brunswick County District Attorney, Jon David said.
In a plea arrangement, Harry Simmons, 64, pleaded guilty to obtaining property by false pretense and one count of embezzlement. In exchange, 16 other embezzlement charges were dismissed.
“Harry Simmons deliberately and knowingly cheated and defrauded the people of Brunswick County and the state of North Carolina,” Caswell Beach Mayor, Deborah Ahlers said. “In so doing, Harry Simmons acted without integrity, moral value, and he betrayed the trust of the people. Today justice has been served.”
Simmons chaired the Brunswick Beach Consortium, a group formed to help the Brunswick beach towns lobby for more resources.
In November of 2014, Caswell Beach commissioners stripped Simmons of his powers after learning the consortium had not paid a Washington, DC lobbying firm in two years and owed $28,000. That led to a state investigation.
“To some extent Mr. Simmons, by his behavior, has victimized everyone in the county because it’s your tax dollars that were taken to fund his secret life,” David said.
A grand jury indicted Simmons in September of 2015. That is when prosecutors revealed they found evidence in Simmons’ trash and recycling bins which showed 66-percent of the money from the consortium was in his personal account.
In all, Simmons stole around $673,000 during a fifteen year period. Simmons allegedly spent the money on various things like lavish travel, prostitution, and paying internet models to pose nude. However, Simmons did not face charges for those allegations.
“Mr. Simmons has accepted responsibility and been punished for how he took the money, not how he spent the money,” David said.
Many say Simmons broke the trust of those who elected him but hope his wrongdoing will be a lesson for all.
“We need to have a series of checks and balances in place particularly as we’re stewards of the taxpayers money,” David said.
A judge sentenced Simmons to between six and just over eight years in prison. He gets credit for the 733 days he has spent in jail since his arrest.
Simmons was also ordered to pay back the money he stole. He owes $275,964 to Brunswick County, $48,847 to Bald Head Island, $110,468 to Caswell Beach, $94,418 to Holden Beach, $92,743 to Oak Island, and $50,861 to Ocean Isle Beach.