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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Caswell Beach mayor charged with stealing from sand fund

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Longtime Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons is facing charges of misappropriating more than $673,000 in public money entrusted to him by a consortium composed of Brunswick County and its beach towns.

Simmons was charged in his former capacity as executive director of the Brunswick Beach Consortium, whose main function was to lobby for continued federal support of shoreline protection projects such as sand replenishment. After an investigation, a Brunswick County jury indicted Simmons on 18 counts of embezzlement and obtaining property by false pretenses.

District Attorney Jon David, who represents Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties, said members of the consortium, now known as Brunswick Shore Protection, paid $1.02 million to Simmons from 2000 to 2014, when questions were raised about how the money was spent.

The money was supposed to pay Washington, D.C., firm Howard Marlowe & Co., to lobby Congress to support beach renourishment and other projects vital to an economy that depends heavily on tourism.

Instead, the prosecution contends Simmons spent more than two-thirds of the money for his own use.

The Washington lobbyist did work with the consortium for a while and got some of the money, but the relationship dissolved at some point, David said. Meanwhile, Simmons incorporated a consulting firm in his name, although he could not legally serve as a lobbyist because he was not registered to do so, the D.A. said.

Late in 2014 David asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into whether Simmons misappropriated money meant for lobbying efforts after questions were raised. Monday’s indictment was the result of that investigation.

The Caswell Beach Board of Commissioners took away his mayoral powers in November 2014 in light of unanswered questions about how Simmons was spending the town’s $12,000 annual contribution to the consortium.

Simmons also was executive director of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association, but that job is now being done by interim executive director Tom Jarrett. The organization severed its ties with Simmons during its July 14 meeting.

The charges Simmons faces are Class C felonies, which under North Carolina’s structured sentencing law would require mandatory imprisonment if he is convicted.

David said Simmons requested a court-appointed lawyer. Tuesday a Superior Court judge lowered his original $1 million bond to $675,000.

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