Tunica Co. housing project director arrested, demanded to repay more than $1M
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - At a press conference Tuesday, White announced that the arrest of former Tunica County housing project director Mardis Jones, and stated that he must repay more than $1 million.
Special agents from White’s office made the arrest. He has been indicted for fraud and embezzling public money in Tunica County. A $1,081,143.07 demand letter was issued to Jones upon his arrest, according to a release from Auditor Shad White.
Jones surrendered to special agents at the Tunica County Jail. His bond was set at $50,000.
The demand letter represents the second-largest issued in state auditor history.
“While this case is a good example of state government officials working together to uncover fraud and hold the perpetrator accountable, I can’t help but be discouraged when another program intended to help the poor is stolen from,” White said in a release.
White said he has repeatedly seen government bodies set up non-government groups to draw down on public funds, with the intent of using those funds to help underserved residents.
However, he said when local governments don’t maintain oversight on those funds, these groups sometimes embezzle. “That’s how big dollars are lost in Mississippi,” he said.
Jones, who was executive director of Tunica County Housing Incorporated, a private organization responsible for rehabilitating dilapidated homes owned by low-income residents. The program is funded by the county board of supervisors.
Jones was responsible for taking applications from local homeowners and connecting them with contractors for home repairs. Jones was then supposed to submit funding requests to the board to pay for contractors.
The auditor says that less than 20 percent of the nearly $2 million transferred to TCHI was paid to contractors and that Jones embezzled more than $750,000.
“Mr. Jones embezzled 40 percent (of the funds) and took another 40 percent in administrative fees,” White said during his press conference. “It made the program almost completely useless for low-income people in Tunica County.”
White’s office began an investigation when a complaint was submitted to the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review. Jones and the program had been highlighted in national news stories and PEER conducted a study to measure the program’s success.
During that study, PEER noticed “strange money transfers initiated by Jones and reported them to the auditor’s office,” the release states.
“It was actually featured in the Washington Post in 2015,” he said. “If you go back and look at the article, one of the women who owned a home ... was one of the victims in the case. She had money drawn down in her name and that ultimately got embezzled.”
The article looked at how poor individuals and people of color in the county had been impacted by the casino revenues flowing through the county.
Attorney General Lynn Fitch has agreed to prosecute the case.
If convicted, Jones faces up to 40 years in prison and $45,000 in fines.
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