Mississippi woman accused of pocketing national park entrance fees, now faces up to 10 years in prison and $250K fine

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2021

An employee of the Vicksburg National Military Park is out on a $10,000 bond accused of stealing more than $1,000 from the park.

Federal authorities arrested Yolanda Ward of Port Gibson after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment charging her with theft of government funds or property. The theft occurred between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2019.

Ward was in charge of fee collections at the park gates, according to the indictment.

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Ward’s case is set for trial Oct. 12. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine with three years supervised release.

National Park Service spokesperson Saudia Muwwakkil said Vicksburg National Military Park officials launched an internal investigation into the park’s entrance fee program when accounting discrepancies were discovered in January 2020.

“The park immediately suspended fee collection, reported its findings and the matter was referred to the Department of Justice,” she said. “The National Park Service is fully committed to ensuring accountability and taking appropriate action to prevent violations like this from happening again.”

She said the Park Service in August implemented a new standardized point of sale system nationwide that includes advanced reporting capabilities, automated monitoring and notification helping to track and target discrepancies in fee collection quicker than traditional systems.

“Later this fall, the park will reinitiate its entrance fee program incorporating these measures, while also introducing a new, cashless fee system to reduce the risk of theft, increase oversight and better protect park funds,” Muwwakkil said.