The former city clerk of Parma was sentenced on Monday, Dec. 5, after pleading guilty to a felony charge of stealing from the Missouri Bootheel town. Helen Frye was ordered by the New Madrid County Circuit Court to pay restitution of $37,626 to the city and was sentenced to seven years in prison. She received a suspended execution of sentence, meaning she will serve 120 days in prison and then be placed on probation.
A 2020 audit by State Auditor Nicole Galloway determined that more than $115,000 was taken fraudulently over four years from Parma through payroll overpayments and improper payments and purchases. The audit also found that the officials were primarily responsible for Parma’s financial matters — Frye and former mayor Tyus Byrd — falsified meeting minutes and financial reports to conceal the fraud. Byrd also was charged with stealing and is awaiting trial, as is former city water supervisor David L. Thatch.
“In the course of our audit, we found a blatant pattern of corruption and cover-up that cost the citizens of Parma more than $115,000,” Auditor Galloway said. “As we’ve proven time and again, audits are an indispensable tool to uncover fraud, corruption, and mismanagement. My office will continue to work with law enforcement on the other charges, in this case, to pursue justice for local taxpayers.”
In late 2018, the Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline received complaints about the operations and finances of Parma. As part of the initial investigation, the Auditor’s Office requested records from then-Mayor Byrd, who was elected in 2015. While some records were provided, auditor staff had to make additional efforts to obtain the remaining records requested.
On April 16, 2019, a new mayor and two new aldermen were sworn into office in Parma. That night, there were suspicious fires at city hall and at the former mayor’s home, during which some city records and computers were destroyed. Shortly after the fires, the Parma Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance formally requesting an audit.
The audit found that from April 14, 2015, through April 16, 2019, at least $115,582 was taken fraudulently from the city. The fraud included payroll overpayments and/or improper payments to the mayor, the city clerk, city officials, and others who were related to the mayor or the city clerk. The mayor and city clerk made improper purchases using prepaid debit cards and the city’s Walmart credit card, including gift cards, appliances, furniture, and electronic equipment.
The audit also estimated more than $7,000 in improperly recorded utility payments and adjustments to utility bills on the accounts of the mayor, water supervisor, the alderman who is the mayor’s father, an alderwoman, and a church. The city’s electronic utility system was destroyed in the city hall fire, but auditors were able to compile information for the audit from paper reports, bank statements, and other documents.
The mayor and city clerk also falsified Board of Aldermen meeting minutes and financial reports. The city clerk falsified cash balances of some bank accounts on financial reports; most of the inaccurate financial reports prepared for the board were reviewed and signed by the mayor. The city clerk also did not timely file and remit various payroll taxes. As a result, the city was assessed over $114,000 in past-due taxes, interest, and penalties.
A complete copy of the 2020 Parma audit can be found here. Because of the poor rating, the State Auditor’s Office conducted a follow-up review to assess the city’s progress on the audit’s recommendations. That follow-up review found that current city officials had implemented or made progress to implement the 26 recommendations.