June 16, 2002
Rather than face the prospects of being indicted by a grand jury for embezzlement, the former executive vice president of the Meridian Airport Authority entered a guilty plea last week in Lauderdale County Circuit Court. Mark Cowart was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended, and will serve three years on probation.
Cowart was responsible for collecting cash generated by the airport's "honor box" parking fees. In documents filed with the court, he admitted to stealing some of that money between December 2000 and February 2001. He had made restitution in the amount of $5,000 in March 2001.
Cowart's case prompted a change in the way the airport handles and accounts for cash in the so-called honor boxes, and from all indications, the system seems to be working. Airport director Tom Williams deserves most of the credit for making sure the airport's business is conducted honestly and for not tolerating abuses.
Cowart's case seems to bring to a close one local case of corruption. Two other cases involving (1) cash handling at the front desk of the Meridian Police Department and (2) allegations against the director of Weems Community Mental Health Center remain under investigation.
Our hope is that law enforcement authorities are aggressively investigating these cases and will either file charges or clear the suspects' names.