The clerk was arrested on a warrant signed by Special Agent Bo Howard of the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office for hindering prosecution in the first degree. Rhodes, 54, was arraigned in Lee County Circuit Court with bond set at $10,000. He was present at a meeting at the supervisors’ office Thursday afternoon with State Auditor Stacey Pickering.
According to the warrant, the complaint received last December alleged that Nelms “was purchasing items through the county and converting them to personal use, taking gas and other county supplies and converting them to personal use, and using county funds to clear fictitious garbage dump sites. While investigating the initial complaint, I have discovered that Nelms and William Paul Rhodes, the Alcorn County purchase clerk, along with several Alcorn County vendors, are all involved in a conspiracy designed to embezzle and/or convert money, equipment, and property from Alcorn County.”
During the course of Howard’s investigation, he worked out of the meeting room at the supervisors’ office on Fulton Drive. According to the warrant, Howard seized Nelms’ county-issued phone on July 3 and discovered a text message conversation between Nelms and Rhodes in which Rhodes reveals that he had been sneaking into the meeting room and using his phone to take photos of the investigator’s notebooks. The warrant says Rhodes sent the photos to Nelms by text message to help him cover up the embezzlement crimes.
“Since my notebooks would have been closed, this means he would have to actually open my notebook and go through the pages looking for information,” the warrant states.
The purchase clerk is an appointed position by the supervisors.
Late Thursday afternoon, Pickering presented the supervisors with copies of the warrant and affidavit for Rhodes’ arrest and a few charts that he said show discrepancies in the district’s spending.
One shows spending on food for prisoners from January 2012 through January 2014 with District 2 totaling $12,945.85. The second-highest is District 3 at $6,432.91.
Spending on illegal dump cleanups from fiscal 2012 to date is $60,685.25 in District 2; $17,785 in District 1; $10,590 in District 3; and zero in Districts 4 and 5.
“Those are some of the things we are looking into,” said Pickering. “After tonight, we will not discuss any other details and specifics of this investigation and any other aspects that are not part of the public record moving forward until we work with the district attorney’s office, state or local grand juries, and possible federal grand juries.”
Nelms is in his first term as supervisor for the 2nd District.
“I have not had an opportunity to investigate these allegations,” he said after the meeting, “and until I do, I don’t have a response at this time.”
The auditor’s task force executed search warrants at several locations, including the supervisors’ office, on Tuesday, examining files and computers and questioning individuals.
The current financial records are expected to be returned to the county on Monday so that business can continue as normal, said Pickering, while previous years’ records will be returned after copies have been made.
A crowd including a couple of former supervisors, several media outlets and other interested parties filled the board room Thursday afternoon for Pickering's brief discussion of the case.