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Mayor, 91, Admits Stealing $200,000 From Town
A 91-year-old woman has been spared from prison after stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the small Alabama town where she served as mayor for three decades.
Mary Ella Hixon secreted $201,000 from River Falls in the last three years and distributed the money to family, friends and business associates.
Hixon, who resigned her post when she turned herself in to police, was only re-elected in August.
The town of roughly 500 residents just north of the Florida panhandle has nearly been bankrupted by the thefts, said Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell.
Hixon has been placed on five years' probation after a judge suspended a sentence of 10 years in prison because of her age.
"Had it not been a 91-year-old woman, I would have stood on my head to make sure she went to prison," Mr Merrell said.
A 47-year-old man who lived with Hixon for years has also been charged with stealing.
Richard Moss, whose relationship with Hixon is believed to have been platonic, is the former administrator of a nearby county jail.
Mr Merrell said Hixon gave Moss about $80,000 in stolen funds, claiming he was a police officer and repair worker. But police say he was neither.
Hixon also admitted to paying $525 in hush money to keep her crimes secret. Her attorney, Mark Christensen, said "a lot of factors" led Hixon to steal.
"I think, at least partially, she was being taken advantage of by some others she trusted and probably shouldn't have," Mr Christensen said.
Despite her advanced age Hixon was a powerful local figure whose actions went unreported because of her status.
"We had quite a few citizens come forward with information they had held on to for years," Mr Merrell said. "They were reluctant to do so earlier for fear of being ostracised or because it was a proverbial 'little old lady'."
Hixon has been told to repay the money and her estate will be held liable if she dies before the full amount is returned.