Former Mills Mayor Fined $5,000 For Conflict Of Interest; DA Says Wyoming Public Corruption Laws Are Weak
The former mayor of Mills made $15,000 on the sale of town-owned property she acquired through a series of deals with her daughter.
But Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Michael Patchen sentenced Marrolyce Wilson to pay a $5,000 fine plus court costs after she pleaded guilty Friday to one misdemeanor count of conflict of interest.
The fine didn't match the crime, and that's the fault of Wyoming law and not the judge, Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen said after Wilson's hearing.
"That's the maximum fine under the statute," Blonigen said.
"We don't have a bid-rigging statute," he said. "We have very weak public corruption statutes."
Blonigen's only recourse to prosecute Wilson was the conflict of interest law, which has no provision for incarceration or probation, he said.
In March, Wilson pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of official misconduct, and pleaded not guilty to charges of conflict of interest, interference with a peace officer, and being an unauthorized holder of a liquor license.
Friday, in exchange for the guilty plea to conflict of interest, Blonigen and Wilson's defense attorney Tom Jubin proposed dismissing the interference and liquor license misdemeanors. Patchen agreed to the proposal.
The case started in January 2015 during an audit, and later a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation probe, of the financial irregularities in the town. The investigation lead to the prosecution of former town clerk/treasurer Lisa Whetstone, who pleaded guilty on March 3 to one felony count of using a public credit card for personal purposes.
During the investigation, the audit found the town advertised the sale of three properties in February 2014.
The town awarded the bid to Wilson for one property -- the Agate Addition -- for $20,000. The town council later nullified the sale because Wison, as mayor, placed a bid for town property.
The town again advertised the same land in October, and received a $15,000 bid of one of the properties from Stacy Faigle, and was awarded the property in December. Faigle is Wilson's daughter.
Through a series of transactions, Wilson received the property from Faigle and later sold the property for $30,000 in September 2015.
She resigned as mayor the day after she admitted the deal to a DCI agent.
Jubin cited Wilson's resignation and her public humiliation as reasons why Patchen should impose a fine of between $250 and $500 -- much lower than the $5,000 Blonigen recommended.
Wilson also wasn't that smart, Jubin said. "She was not a very sophisticated person."
She just wanted to serve her community as a public official, and was not aware of the restrictions that may come with the job, he said.
Wilson apologized to the town," Jubin added. "She realized she screwed up."
Jubin's arguments didn't sway Patchen, who ordered Wilson to pay the full $5,000 fine plus court costs.
"Miss Wilson, you were the face of the Town of Mills," Patchen said.
Public officials always must be aware of their public image, and Wilson had to have known that while acquiring the property, he said. "It doesn't pass the smell test, if you will."