CASWELL BEACH — The mayor of Caswell Beach in Brunswick County and a member state’s Coastal Resources Commission has been indicted on 18 felony counts of obtaining property under false pretenses.
Prosecutors in Brunswick County said Tuesday Harry Q. Simmons Jr. used $673,000 in public money for his personal expenses over a series of years. According to a Wilmington Star-News report, Simmons allegedly paid numerous women to model for sexually explicit photographs that he posted on the Internet.
Simmons was arrested Monday in Caswell Beach and jailed. A Superior Court judge set his bail at a $1 million, but that amount was reduced to $675,000 with requirements that the source of the money must be reported and that he is not to leave the state.
The charges stem from Simmons’ handling of money for the Brunswick Beach Consortium, the release said. The group, made up of beach town leaders in the county, was meant to raise money and lobby for beach re-nourishment and dredging projects. Simmons was its director. The consortium received money from Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Bald Head Island, Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach and Brunswick County totaling $1,020,010, $673,304.07 of which was not spent on lobbying. That’s the amount Simmons is accused of embezzling.
Simmons has said he paid himself for his work on behalf of the consortium, but investigators’ interviews with town officials and others with the consortium showed none were aware that Simmons was paying himself with money contributed to the consortium.
Much of the information in the investigation was found in April after Simmons was evicted from his Greenview Drive, Caswell Beach, home and left two recycling bins outside that included banking information, tax returns and other records. Also found in the recycling bins were documents indicating Simmons was audited by the Internal Revenue Service and subject to more than $50,000 in penalties and interest for deposits to his bank accounts totaling more than his income reported to the IRS for 2007 and 2008.
Also found in the bins were records indicating Simmons, in his capacity as executive director of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association, signed off as supervisor for community service time served by a woman who had been arrested in 2012 in Columbus County on drug-related charges. A search of Simmons’ photography website showed photos of the woman made allegedly on the days of her supposed community service work for the association.
In a press conference Tuesday, Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David said he met with the mayors of Brunswick County’s beach towns to discuss the allegations against Simmons. David said there were no other suspects. Prosecutors have said more charges against Simmons could be coming.
The Brunswick Beach Consortium changed its name to Brunswick Shoreline Protection in June after questions about a scandal involving Simmons arose. Caswell Beach asked Simmons in late 2014 to provide an accounting of how the town’s $12,000 in lobbying funds to the consortium was being used, according to a story in the Wilmington Star-News. Town commissioners stripped Simmons of his mayoral power, but not title, after a Washington lobbying firm said it had terminated its agreement with the consortium in December 2014 because of nonpayment.
In a statement at the time, Simmons said his actions were appropriate and he’d had the latitude to disburse money as needed, including paying himself to take several trips to Washington.
Sen. Phil Berger, the president pro tem of the state Senate, appointed Simmons in 2013 to an at-large seat on the state’s rule-making coastal commission. His appointment expired in June, but Simmons remains on the commission because no replacement has been appointed.
Frank Gorham, the commission’s chairman, told the Star-News that Simmons brought passion, commitment and knowledge to his post on the CRC. “Harry had all three of those things for coastal issues and a passion for helping coastal communities,” Gorham said. “This is very sad. A lot of people had admiration for his work and his passion.”
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