Former Mosses Mayor Walter S. Hill enters guilty plea to felony ethics violation

Published 5:37 pm Monday, January 9, 2017

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced the filing of an Information and subsequent plea of guilty entered by Walter S. Hill, former mayor of the Town of Mosses (Lowndes County), on a felony ethics violation for using his office for personal gain in the total amount of $25,370.37 on Friday, Jan. 6.

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According to a press lease from Strange, issued Monday, Jan. 9, Hill resigned the day before he pled guilty to the felony ethics violation in Montgomery County Circuit Court. However, when contacted Hill said that on Monday of last week, Jan. 2, he retired from the Town of Mosses as he has been mayor more than 10 years.

He said he submitted a letter of retirement to the mayor pro tem (Willie B. Hill) and the town council.

According to Strange, Hill was previously convicted of misdemeanor ethics charges in 2014, and remained in office.  Due to these felony charges, he resigned last week rather than being removed automatically from office.

“Mr. Hill has committed flagrant abuses of the public trust and taxpayers’ money for too long,” said “Strange. “It is extremely important that this case has resulted in him no longer being in office.”

The Information filed by the Attorney General Strange’s Special Prosecutions Division charged Hill with unlawfully directing money, in the form of checks drawn on the town’s bank accounts, to himself.

“Specifically:

“•Mayor Hill used Town of Mosses funds to make his child support payments that were processed by the Department of Human Resources in Montgomery County. He then created fraudulent records in an attempt to conceal his theft.

“•Mayor Hill issued unauthorized payroll checks to Town of Mosses employees and deposited them into his personal bank account in Montgomery County.

“•Mayor Hill issued himself six additional monthly stipend payments without authorization or approval. He then deposited the payments into his personal bank account.

“•Mayor Hill issued himself reimbursement payments for property lost in a fire at his residence. The alleged lost property was not covered by insurance, and the payments for reimbursement were not authorized or approved. He then deposited the payments into his personal bank account.

“•Mayor Hill issued himself multiple other checks on the Town of Mosses’ account without authorization or approval. He then deposited the checks into his personal bank account.

“•Mayor Hill’s schemes resulted in the unlawful personal gain of $25,370.37.”

According to Strange, “Hill faces a potential penalty of two to 20 years’ imprisonment for his ethics violation, which is a Class B felony. Hill’s sentencing has been set for Feb. 15.”

In October of 2014, Hill pleaded guilty in Lowndes County Circuit Court to what his attorney at the time Julian L. McPhilliips specified as “unintentional” use of office for personal gain, a misdemeanor, as former Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency Director.

Also, in 2014, a charge of forgery in the second degree against Hill was dropped by the attorney general’s office.

Hill had been indicted by a Lowndes County grand jury on Jan. 13, 2014 in connection with his role as former EMA director on charges of forgery second degree, a Class C felony, and use of official position or office for personal gain, a misdemeanor.

According to a court document, the forgery second degree involved a non-driver’s I.D. card, and the use of official position or office for personal gain charge involved the position of Emergency Management Agency Director to “obtain personal gain for himself, a family member, or a business with which he was associated.”

McPhillips said in 2014, “First of all, I think it’s a tragedy the case was brought in the first place.” He said, “The travesty of it is that it was incited by jealous people in the Lowndes County area that had reasons of rivalry or jealously for him, and he has done nothing.”

McPhillips said at that time he urged Hill to let him try the case because he felt it could be won. “I think he’s one of the most honorable, decent, respectful persons I’ve ever met,” McPhillips said. He also noted the state offered Hill to enter a plea of unintentional use of office for personal gain.

In his Jan. 9 press release, Strange praised those involved in bringing this case to successful resolution, noting in particular Assistant Attorney General Katie Langer and Special Agents of his Special Prosecutions Division. He also thanked the special agents of the Alabama Ethics Commission and the Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office for their cooperation and assistance in the investigation.

Hill provided the Signal with a copy of his letter of “retirement” dated Jan. 2, 2017.

Hill wrote, “It has been my humble honor and sincere privilege to serve the community of Mosses as it mayor for the last 17 years…” He also stated in the letter that he “had decided to end my public service as Mayor of Mosses and effectively retire as Mayor immediately.”

Hill also provided the Signal with the following response to news of his pleading guilty to the felony ethics violation for using his office for personal gain in the total amount of $25,370.37:

“On Monday, January 2, 2017, I respectfully submitted my letter of retirement –effective immediately, ending my public service as Mayor of Mosses. “

He said, “I soon learned that an ethics complaint filed against me had resulted… left me with a heavy heart of remorse for the allegations against me.” And he said, “After meeting with my attorney about the ethics allegations, it was determined that I plea(d) guilty to avoid a costly legal court (battle), which resulted in my pleading guilty to an ethics violation.”

Hill said, “I have always to the best of my God given ability worked to serve with humility, honesty, and with integrity.  I am not a perfect person, but was called to a perfect purpose in serving the public.  I respectfully and prayerfully wish the new mayor of Mosses success as I prayerfully seek God’s guidance for what He has for my life forward.”

He expressed his gratitude for everyone’s prayers and said, “I trust in and seek God’s will. “

He said pubic officials learn lessons such as thinking something is “morally right does not make it ethically right.”

Hill said, “I am committed to heart in doing what’s right with regards to the ethics violation.  I know that God has a greater purpose for me to fulfill from this day forward, and I humbly accept His will.”