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State auditors investigating Jackson nonprofit

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state auditor is investigating the nonprofit that promotes and markets Jackson's 66-block core, and Downtown Jackson Partners executive assistant Linda Brune has registered as a whistleblower, according to the Mississippi attorney general's office.

Brune was fired because four boxes of records from 2010 and 2012 are missing, board chairman David Watkins told the Clarion-Ledger (http://on.thec-l.com/1AmuRZJ ). "We can't have people stealing records," he said.

Brune's attorney, John Reeves of Jackson, said, "Ms. Brune is a hero for coming forward to law enforcement with allegations of illegal activity. She has taken nothing from that office. They're looking to find a scapegoat, and it won't work."

Copies of Downtown Jackson Partners documents show the nonprofit bought $18,000 worth of furniture from a company owned by a board member's daughter--in-law and spent $1,230 on a meal for nine, the newspaper said. It said they also show that president Ben Allen transferred a truck belonging to the nonprofit to himself, and got repeated reimbursed purchases on his personal credit card without providing receipts.

Lavish spending sometimes is needed to lure big-league investors, said Allen, who is paid $150,000 a year. The nonprofit's budget comes from taxes paid by businesses in the 66-block downtown area.

Watkins said the lack of records was "bad judgment" but he trusts Allen "to not be stealing." New controls ensure proper documentation, he said.

The agency bought the used Chevy Silverado half-ton pickup in 2007 for landscaping and maintenance. When it tried to renew the license tag in 2011, Hinds County Tax Collector Eddie Fair's office wrote back: "Our record shows you no longer own this 1988 Chevy pickup."

County records obtained by the newspaper showed that the truck became Allen's 11 days after the Partners paid $1,498 to replace the transmission in 2010. Records show the nonprofit continued to pay for his tag, taxes, tires, repairs, insurance and gas.

Allen said the Silverado was worth almost nothing, first saying, "I bought it," and then that the Partners "may have just given it to me."

The board's executive committee, which kept no minutes at the time, authorized giving the truck to him because its insurance cost $2,000 a year. That insurance now costs about $400, he said.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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