Jerome Wyatt

Jerome Wyatt and public defender John Piazza, background, listen to Judge Dal Williamson during an arraignment hearing Tuesday at the Jones County courthouse in Laurel. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

State Auditor Shad White announced his office returned more than $350,000 to Mississippi taxpayers in January after investigations by his office determined public funds were stolen or misused. “Significant amounts” were recovered from John Cullen, Mary Washington and Jones County Supervisor Jerome Wyatt, according to a press release.

 Agents from the auditor’s office arrested Wyatt in October after he was indicted for fraud and embezzlement. He is accused of approving fraudulent overtime payments and took money from a youth mentorship program and from the scrapping of a county-owned vehicle. Wyatt has repaid the full amount of the demand issued to him, but criminal charges are still pending, according to the press release.

Wyatt was indicted for embezzlement of funds obtained from a 1997 Ford F-350 that was sold for scrap in May 2017. It was sold by an employee at a Lamar County salvage yard with Wyatt’s knowledge, according to the investigation. 

Wyatt was also accused of seeking and receiving personal reimbursements for expenditures for activities associated with a youth mentoring program he started called the Gentlemen’s Club and approving improper overtime payments for an off-duty employee to attend an out-of-state trip with participants.

In all, Wyatt was accused of fraudulently approving payments and embezzling a total of $2,819.70. He was ordered to pay back $6,076.46 to cover the costs of lost interest and the investigation.

If convicted, he faces up to 45 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

Approximately $126,000 was recovered from Cullen, the former CEO of Payliance in Columbus, Ohio. He received a demand letter after Payliance took economic development funds from the Mississippi Development Authority and relocated to Ohio without creating jobs in Mississippi. Cullen has now paid in full, according to the press release.

Washington was issued a demand after she paid “tithes” to multiple churches using public money in her position as chancery clerk of Noxubee County. The auditor’s office has recovered all funds misused by Washington, according to the press release.

She paid $20,000 in tithes and was ordered to pay back $38,555 to cover interest and the cost of the investigation.

Since being appointed to auditor in July, White has issued demands for approximately $3 million in stolen or misspent public money.

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