Below is a press release from the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor:
Today in a press conference State Auditor Shad White announced Special Agents from his office have arrested Mardis Jones after he was indicted for fraud and embezzling public money in Tunica County. A $1,081,143.07 demand letter was issued to Jones upon his arrest. This amount represents the second-largest demand in a criminal case in the history of the Auditor’s office and includes both interest and investigative expenses.
Jones was Executive Director of Tunica County Housing Incorporated (TCHI), an organization responsible for operating a program to rehabilitate dilapidated homes owned by low-income county residents. The program is funded by the Tunica County Board of Supervisors. The county called for Jones to take applications from local homeowners and connect them with contractors for home repairs. Jones then submitted funding requests to the Board of Supervisors to pay the contractors. Instead of making all the required payments to the contractors, though, Jones is accused of embezzling from the program. Investigators determined less than 20% of the nearly $2 million transferred to TCHI was actually paid to contractors for rehabilitation work on homes. Jones allegedly embezzled over $750,000 from the program.
The Auditor’s office began an investigation when a complaint was submitted by the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER). After Jones and the program were highlighted in national news stories, PEER conducted a study to measure the program’s success. PEER analysts noticed strange money transfers initiated by Jones and reported them to the Auditor’s office.
“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. Once again, an arm of government trusted a private organization to run a government program, and a large percentage of the program’s spending was flat out stolen,” said Auditor White.
Jones surrendered to Special Agents at the Tunica County Jail. His bond was set at $50,000 by the court.
If convicted, Jones faces up to 40 years in prison and $45,000 in fines. All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The case will be prosecuted by the office of Attorney General Lynn Fitch.
“These funds – hundreds of thousands of dollars – were meant to help the elderly, handicapped, and poverty stricken,” said Attorney General Lynn Fitch. “But the funds never got to the vulnerable citizens who needed it most. My office is pleased to work with the Auditor’s office to stand up for the people of Tunica County and protect the citizens of Mississippi from those that take advantage of their positions of trust and power.”