With about a dozen supporters backing her, Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates announced Monday before the town's regular scheduled meeting that she is innocent of 17 counts of embezzlement by a public official with which she was charged on Aug. 6. Everette-Oates is scheduled to appear in Edgecombe County Superior Court Oct. 1 to answer to the charges.
The two-term mayor (2000-2004, current) is accused of spending $5,634 in unauthorized charges on a town credit card between August 2010 and January 2012. A state auditor report states that receipts for the charges were not found.
"I want to make a statement to the Princeville citizens, to the state and to the nation," Everette-Oates said. "I am innocent of these charges that were placed on me. Everything that I've done was Princeville related. All of Princeville expense was in the budget line item. ...Everything I did was Princeville related. I don't need Princeville funds to operate in my own personal life."
What happened to the receipts?
Everette-Oates said the receipts were in the town hall before the Local Government Commission took over the town's fiances in July 2012. She is accusing the LGC of removing the files in an attempt to frame her.
"Princeville files were removed from the town of Princeville without the manager and the governing board knowing about it," she said. "These files were my evidence. Therefore, I'm not responsible for any files that were removed from the town of Princeville without my knowledge. I was charged after LGC took the evidence (receipts)."
When the LGC Press Secretary Schorr Johnson was asked via email if they removed the receipts, he replied with a one word answer, "No."
When the LGC was asked about the framing allegation, the spokesperson said, "That is not true."
Mayor Pro Tem Isabelle Purvis-Andrews stood by what Everette-Oates said during the brief press conference. She, too, said the mayor is innocent.
"I attended most of business meetings with the mayor," Purvis-Andrews said. "Mayor Oates had a habit of having a witness with her that would mainly be me. She had a habit of keeping all her receipts. I've seen a sandwich bag full of receipts and she made sure she turned them in to the (town) manager or the finance officer."
Everette-Oates said she followed protocol by handing over the receipts to former town manager Victor Marrow. Marrow was terminated in February over a contract dispute.
The primary charges were for visits to 11 hotels, ($1,146) 95 gas stations ($4,726) and 81 restaurants ($4,006). In most cases, on the same day that a charge was made at an eatery, one was also made at a gas station.
The questioned charges included two separate incidents on the same day at Wilco service station four days after a charge from ExxonMobil and $183 to Bed Bath & Beyond. Everette-Oates defended her Bed Bath & Beyond charges stating that she purchased pictures for the town hall.
"Different departments used credit cards, but they targeted Mayor Oates," she said. "Also, the former administration used credit cards, but they targeted Mayor Oates. I'm not guilty of any of these crimes. I never ever committed a crime a day of my life and I'm not planning on having (criminal charges against) Mayor Oates' name. Everything that I've done for both of my terms has been for the best interest of the town of Princeville citizens."
Everette-Oates followers were picketing on the town hall sidewalks before they were asked to move across the street.
Some of the signs the picketers were carrying read, "Free Mayor Oates" and "Justice for Mayor Oates." They also burst into cheers when Everette Oates said, "I'm innocent."