(CBS/AP) BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Mary Hixon, a 91-year-old mayor in River Falls, Ala., pleaded guilty to theft on Thursday for stealing nearly $201,000 from the south Alabama town where she has been mayor for the last three decades.
According to prosecutors, in exchange for pleading to theft and resigning, authorities dropped felony ethics charges. Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan sentenced Hixon to 10 years but suspended the term to five years on probation because of Hixon's advanced age.
Years of thefts have essentially left the city broke, Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell said.
"Had it not been a 91-year-old woman, I would have stood on my head to make sure she went to prison," said Merrell.
Hixon has been ordered to repay the money. The investigation reveals that in the last three years, the mayor illegally transferred $201,610 in city money to others but that most likely, the thefts started long before that, the prosecutors said.
Mark Christensen, an attorney represting Hixon, said there are a few reasons for Hixon's actions.
"I think at least partially she was being taken advantage of some others she trusted and probably shouldn't have," he said.
A police investigation began in August when The Andalusia Star-News reported about the city selling property to a middle-aged man who was living with Hixon. She apparently acted like a grandmother to the man's four children. A sworn police statement said that city money went to Hixon and her relatives in addition to this man and his relatives. Meanwhile, other co-workers at a development company where the mayor also worked also received funds.
A "concerned citizen" wearing a hidden recorder during a conversation got Hixon to admit to illegal conduct and told the person what to say to police and paid the man $525 to "keep him quiet."
Hixon turned herself in to authorities on Wednesday in a negotiated surrender.
According to authorities, no one else has been charged but an investigation continues and Hixon has agreed to cooperate. Merrell said that residents had suspected wrongdoing in the town for quite some time.
"We had quite a few citizens come forward with information they had held on to for years," Merrell said. "They were reluctant to do so earlier for fear of being ostracized or because it was a proverbial 'little old lady.'"