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Itawamba Chanery Clerk ordered to pay back funds

Reported by: Wayne Hereford
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Updated: 6/23/2014 7:02 pm
FULTON, Miss. (WTVA)-- From August 2007 to December 2012 the Itawamba County Chancery Clerk's office failed to settle money that was collected for redemption of delinquent taxes in a timely manner, according to State Auditor Stacey Pickering. 

''This is money that has been misapproriated. It's not been stolen or embezzled. But, it basically is the result of bad bookeeping over the years," said Pickering during a news conference in Tupelo.

Pickering says this was money lost to individuals who purchased property through tax sales.

He says that money never paid back to those people once the original owners bought back their properties.

Neither was it settled back to the county nor the state of Mississippi.

"Some private money was used throughout the process in order to float checks to balance the account. But, it was the result really of just very, very bad bookeeping," said Pickering. 

Pickering says that Itawamba County Chancery Clerk Jim Witt has 30 days to pay the money back to individuals owed or the state auditor's office will collect it against the chancery clerk's bond and take civil court action.

"No, there will not be an arrest at this time in this case. Again, this money has not been stolen. No one has individually gained money [it] was just misappropriated," Pickering explained.

Pickering went on to say some individuals were overpaid during the land sales while others were owed money.

"When you ask for the public's trust as an elected official in Mississippi, you're expected to uphold that trust," he replied.

WTVA did speak with Witt Monday afternoon, but he had no comment under the advice of his attorney.

He would only say that the investigation is ongoing.

Pickering says the bad bookeeping errors were discoverd during a normal audit of the clerk's office.

"After a while, the mess has just become a bigger mess than what can be handled," said Pickering. 
Pickering says that all elected officials are required to hold about a $100,000 bond per term in office.

He says the Itawamba County Chancery Clerk accounting problems span about three terms. This means the auditor's office can possibly collect $300,000 of the $500,000 owed through the bond companies, according to Pickering.  

Witt has served as Itawamba County Chancery Clerk since 1992.
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