Rumors of possible indictment circulate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; A draft of the 2005 Adams County audit lists five findings against Circuit Clerk M.L. &8220;Binkey&8221; Vines including one stating $44,900 of county money was unaccounted for at the time of the audit.

Other findings report that Vines did not file required documents with the state, has not corrected problems reported in previous years&8217; audits and bounced various checks written to the county.

Two of the findings were turned over to the Investigative Division of the Office of the State Auditor, the draft audit reports. The audit, prepared by Switzer, Hopkins and Mange is dated June 9.

Email newsletter signup

Last week, rumors circulated around the county that an Adams County Grand Jury had returned an indictment on Vines for alleged embezzlement. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and indictments remain secret until they are served. As of Friday afternoon, Vines had not been charged with anything.

The grand jury was in session last week and adjourned on Wednesday. George F. West was the foreman, he said.

&8220;We were sworn to secrecy for six months,&8221; he said. &8220;We can&8217;t say a word.&8221;

Only the jurors and a limited pool of court officials have access to indictment information and no one is allowed to discuss it, District Attorney Ronnie Harper said.

&8220;I&8217;m prohibited to talk about anything (related to the grand jury),&8221; Harper said.

The Attorney General&8217;s Office, rumored to have been handling an investigation, does not confirm or deny any investigations, Public Information Officer Jan Schaefer said, and would not answer questions about a possible indictment.

&8220;It is the policy of this office not to confirm an indictment has been handed down until the capias and indictment have been served on a defendant,&8221; Attorney General Jim Hood said in an e-mailed statement.

Procedurally, indictments from a grand jury are first sent to the District Attorney&8217;s office, where reports are written, Harper said. The foreman of the jury must certify the reports. Then the indictments are filed in the Circuit Clerk&8217;s office. They are listed in a docket book, but are still not public record.

A warrant is prepared and sent to the sheriff&8217;s office. The sheriff serves the papers and signs that he has done so in the clerk&8217;s office. At that point the information becomes public record.

Harper said his office was working through its indictments for a variety of local cases Friday and hoped to have them filed early this week.

Vines said Wednesday that he did not know his name might come up before a grand jury and had heard nothing of an indictment.

&8220;That&8217;s news to me,&8221; he said. &8220;(An indictment is) supposed to be secret until it&8217;s served.&8221;

Vines was out of the office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment about the audit Saturday.

Vines has been repeatedly cited for problems in audits since 2003, each time saying he would correct the problem.

In the 2003 audit, settlements to the circuit clerk totaled $207,960.50 more than what was due to him, according to account journals.

His response at the time &8212; printed in the audit &8212; said the settlements were made in error and the money had been reimbursed.

The same year, an audit finding said understated fees and overstated expenses resulted in Vines&8217; overcompensation of $17,921.73 over the salary cap limitation he is allowed to receive by state law.

Vines responded in that audit that he was reviewing the problem and would repay any owed money immediately.

In the 2004 audit, Vines was found to have been overcompensated $21,938 in excess of the cap limitation.

Vines responded in the audit that year that he would repay any money he owed.

After the 2004 audit Vines installed a new computer system and hired a bookkeeper to prevent future problems, he said at the time.

In the most recent 2005 audit, a finding again says Vines was overpaid or underpaid for fees &8220;as the result of sloppy presentation of claim forms and mathematical errors.&8221; The net overpayment was $63.

Of the five findings in the current audit, Vines only responded to one. The finding reports one instance where assets were removed from inventory, but no documentation could be found to support removal.

&8220;I will make sure I have all documentation to support the removal of inventory assets,&8221; Vines responded in the audit.

Other 2005 findings listed in the draft audit include:

&8212;Cash receipts were not deposited in the bank on a daily or timely basis. Some were deposited two years later.

&8212;Payroll expenses were not reimbursed in a timely manner.

&8212;The clerk did not maintain subsidiary ledgers showing where money was owed, leading to $44,900 that was unaccounted for.

&8212;Vines was paid $600 more than provided by law for court cases prosecuted by the state.

According to normal procedure and timetables, any indictment could come this week.

If an indictment is served, the Attorney General&8217;s Office will talk about investigations, Schaefer said.