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Moss pleads guilty in River Falls thefts, remains free on bond

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Nearly three years after the Covington County District Attorney’s office began digging into the town of River Falls’ finances after a Star-News article chronicled the then-mayor’s sale of town hall property without council approval, the man who lived with former Mayor Mary Hixon plead guilty for his part in the scheme.

In August 2012, a majority of the then-sitting River Falls Town Council members told then Star-News news editor Stephanie Nelson they never voted in 2008 to sell the town’s former city hall property to Richard Moss, Hixon’s housemate for more than a decade. But Nelson found probate documents transferring the property to Moss.

Following the reporting, on election night 2012, District Attorney Walt Merrell’s office simultaneously served search warrants at River Falls Town Hall, Hixon’s residence and Hixon’s private office, and began an investigation.

A grand jury indicted Moss in September 2012 on four counts of theft of property I, and one count of theft of property II for his involvement.

On Monday, Moss, 49, pleaded guilty to three counts of theft of property I and was sentenced to 10 years in prison on each count, to be served concurrently. Moss, who was represented by David Baker, remains free on bond pending the outcome of a probation hearing in September.
Merrell and Assistant DA Emmett Massey prosecuted for the state.

At the time the investigation began, Moss was the Coffee County Jail administrator, but was placed on leave and then resigned amid the controversy in late August and early September 2012.

According to a press release from the district attorney’s office, Moss admitted in his guilty plea that he received payroll checks signed by Hixon, although he never performed services for the town of River Falls.

Additionally, he admitted that Hixon paid utility bills at two of Moss’ businesses, a rabbit farm and a feed and seed operation – Conecuh River Enterprise, which was housed at the old town hall property – using town funds. Hixon previously pleaded guilty to one count of theft of property I and was placed on probation. Hixon, who was in her 80s, has since passed away.

Since their arrests, the town of River Falls has been working to get the property back.

As part of his plea deal, Moss is required to deed the property back to the town, as well as pay restitution owed in all five counts, which totals $105,609.82.

In all, more than $201,000 in town funds were stolen in a three-year time period leading up to Hixon and Moss’ arrests.

Moss has applied for probation.

Merrell said he is opposed to probation for Moss, but, according to the press release, stated that should Moss tender a significant portion of the restitution owed, he may soften his stance.

A probation hearing has been set before Circuit Judge Charles “Lex” Short on Sept. 15, 2015.

Gunter said she is happy with the plea deal.

“I’m glad it’s finally over,” she said. “It seemed like it would never happen, but it has.”

Gunter said Merrell discussed available options with the council last week. The Star-News reported last Wednesday that Merrell met in closed session with the council on Tuesday night

Additionally, Gunter said she has at least one person interested in purchasing the old town hall property.

“We will have to discuss it,” she said. “We want to make sure we dot all of our Is and cross all of our Ts.”

Merrell commended Opp Assistant Chief Kevin Chance for his role as lead investigator in the case.

“Were it not for Kevin’s discipline and dedication, I don’t know what we would have done,” Merrell said. “We had literally a truckload of paperwork that had to be gone through, and Kevin divided it and conquered it.”

Merrell said he was also grateful for the help from the Florala Police Department and the Opp Police Department.

Merrell also commended the current River Falls Council and Mayor Patricia Gunter.

“They have always made themselves available to me and have been a partner in this process,” he said. “Having an active and engaged mayor and council made the facts of this case much easier to cipher, and I appreciate them for that.”