JACKSON, Miss. – Today Special Agents from the office of State Auditor Shad White arrested Jones County Supervisor Jerome Wyatt for embezzlement and fraud. He was indicted by a grand jury assembled by District Attorney Anthony J. Buckley, the District Attorney for Mississippi’s 18th District. Wyatt was also issued a demand letter at the time of arrest.
Wyatt is charged with embezzling funds intended for a youth mentoring program and also from the sale of a county vehicle. Wyatt is also charged with fraud for authorizing improper overtime payments to a county employee.
Some of Wyatt’s embezzlement revolved around his involvement with a group called “The Gentlemen’s Club.” Wyatt founded “The Gentlemen’s Club” as a mentoring program for young men at Laurel Middle School. The alleged purpose of the “Club” was to provide programming for young at-risk men and to also fund field trips, blazers for members, and incentives for students to maintain high grade point averages. “The Gentlemen’s Club” maintains an expense account composed of public funds at the Laurel School District to pay for these items.
During a routine financial statement audit of Jones County, the Office of the State Auditor discovered that Wyatt sought and received personal reimbursement for certain Club expenditures from the Laurel School District and also submitted reimbursement requests to the County for the same Club expenditures. For instance, Wyatt was reimbursed by the Club’s school district expense account for the catering costs of Club events even though a catering company had already been paid directly by the Jones County Board of Supervisors. Wyatt’s actions constituted the conversion of public funds to personal use.
Additionally, Wyatt was indicted for fraud after approving improper overtime payments for a Jones County employee when the employee attended an out-of-state “Gentlemen’s Club” trip. On March 16 and 17, 2018, an off-duty county employee served as a driver for a Club trip to Alabama. That employee was paid by the Laurel School District’s expense fund for his work on that trip. The employee also, however, requested and received overtime payment from the County for those same days. Wyatt was the employee’s supervisor and approved the improper overtime payment to the employee.
Finally, Wyatt was indicted for embezzlement of funds obtained from the sale of a county vehicle. In May 2017, the Jones County Board of Supervisors approved the sale of a 1997 Ford F-350 for scrap. In late 2017, Wyatt arranged for the truck to be sold and scrapped at a salvage facility in Lamar County. The County never received payment from the sale of the truck and eventually alerted the Office of the State Auditor. Investigators from the Auditor’s office then determined that the salvage yard had paid an individual personally for the vehicle. That individual was acting at Wyatt’s behest.
In total, Wyatt is charged with fraudulently approving payments and embezzling $2,819.70. With interest and investigative costs, Wyatt is responsible for repaying $6,076.46. If convicted, Wyatt faces up to 45 years in prison and an additional $25,000 in fines.
Today’s indictment was not Wyatt’s first encounter with the Auditor’s Office. In January 2018, an audit exception regarding reimbursements for travel not related to official duties as a county supervisor was made. Jerome Wyatt repaid the full amount of exception.
“Supervisor Wyatt took money dedicated to a mentorship program for young men for his own personal benefit. 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,” said State Auditor Shad White.
“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.”