KIRAN: Town of Clinton mayor pleads no contest to charge following lease of SUVs without approval

KIRAN: Town of Clinton mayor pleads no contest to charge following lease of SUVs without approval

CLINTON, La. (WAFB) - Clinton Mayor Lori Bell was in court Monday, Dec. 9. She pleaded no contest to a formal charge of “approval of application: incurring indebtedness.”

Bell has been sentenced to one year of probation and will face a $500 fine. She will not be able to seek reelection.

“The mayor did not admit any fault but also decided to just get it over with,” Bell’s attorney, Niles Haymer says.

Bell was arrested three times and charged with malfeasance in office after being accused of leasing four brand new Chevy Tahoe SUVs for the Town of Clinton in 2016 without the town aldermen’s approval. The 9News Investigators found it cost the town more than $200,000. When council members found out, the SUVs were taken out of circulation.

“She wanted to get this behind her,” Haymer says. “Anytime you have been arrested three times in a matter of a few months on serious felony charges and you are able to resolve your case on a no-contest misdemeanor plea, she decided to take that resolution.”

“I think the resolution allows the town of Clinton to move forward and hopefully regain physical soundness and stability,” Phares says. “I think that is the most important thing; to get the town of Clinton back on good financial footing.”

The attorney general’s office says that Bell was subpoenaed as a witness in the trial against the former Clinton police chief Fred Dunn.

More: Fred Dunn resigns as Clinton police chief amid 9News Investigation

The 9News Investigators also found that Clinton Police Chief Fred Dunn signed as the counsel for those leases. Legally, that signature should have come from the town’s attorney. Dunn has since resigned as chief. He and the mayor were both arrested for their alleged involvement with the leases on the SUVs and charged with malfeasance in office.

Bell was also arrested for allegedly ignoring a notice from the Louisiana Department of Health about Clinton’s water that outlined a “long list of deficiencies with the town’s public water system” that was causing the water system to not meet minimum state requirements. Then in September of 2018, she was arrested on allegations that she used money from the police department’s narcotics fund to purchase and a tent and banner with her name on it.

Bell will resign from her position effective Friday, Nov. 22, according to her resignation letter handed over to the Town of Clinton officials.

“It is with a heavy heart, yet equal relief, that I tender my resignation as Mayor effective immediately. Since 2012, I have been honored to serve my community both as an Alderwoman and Mayor. However, since 2016, I have been under a constant microscope from detractors for decisions I made that I believed at the time was in the best interest of the Town of Clinton. So today I decided that it was best for me, my fiancé and family that I walk away from public office and focus more on my ministry,” said Bell in her resignation letter.

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Bell’s attorney, Niles Haymer, says Bell had decided to resign and that she will not seek reelection as Clinton’s mayor.

Clinton’s Mayor Pro Tem Darren Matthews will take over as the town’s mayor until the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office can hold a special election to select a new mayor.

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