Seven Former West Helena Officials Plead Innocent to Theft Charges

April 22, 2006 - Posted at 1:03 p.m. CST

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) _ Seven former city officials have

pleaded innocent to felony theft charges for cashing checks for

work this year for a city that no longer exists.

The former West Helena officials entered the pleas in Phillips

County Circuit Court. A hearing in the case was set for May 12th

and a trial was scheduled for May 15th.

In January, the adjacent cities of West Helena and Helena merged

to become Helena-West Helena.

Before the merger, the West Helena City Council approved salary

and other pay for its members for 2006. Prosecutor Fletcher Long

says the city officials committed theft by cashing the checks.

Former West Helena Mayor Johnny Weaver cashed two checks, and

former City Clerk Renee Whitfield cashed one. Five former aldermen

each cashed two checks -- one for 33-hundred dollars, as their

salary for 2006, and another for three-thousand dollars as

incentive pay.

Meanwhile, a Phillips County grand jury has met several times

since convening April Third. The grand jury is investigating

whether actions last year by members of the West Helena City

Council and the Helena-West Helena School Board violated state law.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)