JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The President of the Jones County Board of Supervisors was arrested and charged with embezzlement and fraud on Tuesday.
Special agents from State Auditor Shad White’s office arrested Jerome Wyatt after he was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of embezzlement and two counts of fraud, according to White.
Wyatt, representing Beat 5, is accused of embezzling from a youth mentoring program and the sale of a county vehicle and using the funds for personal use. Wyatt was also charged with fraud for authorizing improper overtime payments to county employees.
A news release from the Office of the State Auditor said Wyatt founded “The Gentlemen’s Club” to mentor young men at Laurel Middle School with the goal of providing programming for young men at risk and to fund field trips, blazers for members and incentives for students to maintain grades. The club used an expense account of public funds at the Laurel School District.
White’s office discovered during a routine financial audit of Jones County that Wyatt received personal reimbursement for certain club expenditures from the school district while also submitting reimbursement requests to the county for the same expenditures, according to the release. One example, Wyatt was allegedly reimbursed by the club’s school district account for the catering costs of an event, though the Jones County Board of Supervisors had already paid for the catering.
According to White, Wyatt was converting public funds for personal use.
Wyatt was also indicted for fraud after approving the improper overtime payments to an off-duty county employee who drove the Gentleman’s Club to Alabama for a field trip. The employee was paid by the school district’s expense fund for his work on the trip, but the employee also requested and received overtime pay from the county for the trip after Wyatt approved it, according to the State Auditor.
Wyatt is also accused of embezzling funds received from the sale of a county vehicle. The Board of Supervisors approved the sale of a 1997 Ford F-350 for scrap in May 2017. Later in the year, Wyatt arranged to have the truck sold and scrapped in Lamar County, but the county never received payment from the sale of the truck and eventually alerted the Office of the State Auditor, who determined an individual acting on Wyatt’s behest had been paid for the vehicle.
The fraudulent payments and embezzling amounted to $2,819.70, according to White. Wyatt is responsible for repaying $6,076.46 to account for interest and investigative costs.
If Wyatt is convicted, Wyatt faces up to 45 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
“Supervisor Wyatt took money dedicated to a mentorship program for young men for his own personal benefit,” said State Auditor Shad White. “Those young men deserve better. Our schools deserve better. The case as a whole shows Wyatt was willing to take advantage of the taxpayers of Jones County, and now he needs to be held accountable. Public offices are not there to provide special benefits to those who hold them. Public officials should serve the people, not use their positions to enrich themselves.”
This indictment is not Wyatt’s first encounter with the Auditor’s Office, according to White. An audit exception in January 2018 regarding reimbursements for travel not related to official duties as a county supervisors was made. The full amount of the exception was paid by Wyatt.
“I also applaud the hard work of District Attorney Buckley in this case and his willingness to bring the case to the grand jury,” said White. “My office is prepared to work with all the district attorneys around the state to hold anyone who embezzles public money accountable, regardless of who you are or where you’re from. Having partners like District Attorney Buckley is critical for accomplishing that mission."
Wyatt declined to comment on the charges after being released from jail on a $4,000 bond.
The Laurel School District released the following statement: “We were saddened to hear the news of Mr. Wyatt’s indictment. The mentoring program he established was beneficial to our students through the years.”
Judge Dal Williamson said the trial is set to begin on February 6.