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County supervisor arrested for embezzling government funds

November 23, 2021 GMT

LAUREL, Miss. (AP) — A county supervisor in southeastern Mississippi is accused of unlawfully using a government-owned car and cell phone to operate his beauty supply business.

Jones County District Five Supervisor Travares Comegys was arrested Monday after being indicted by a grand jury on embezzlement charges, State Auditor Shad White said in a news release.

Comegys also was issued a $5,719.24 demand letter from the auditor’s office.

Comegys is accused of embezzling $2,794.05, according to court records. The rest of the bill represents $131.14 in interest and investigative expenses incurred by the state auditor’s office totaling another $2,794.05.

Speaking with The Associated Press, Comegys’ lawyer, Thomas Fortner, said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the auditor can prove his client did anything wrong.

“I don’t think he can back that up,” he said, of White. “I think he just makes allegations to get his name in the paper.”

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“It’s all about headlines from their standpoint,” he continued. “For us, it’s about protecting our clients’ reputations and character.”

State Auditor spokesperson Logan Reeves said Tuesday that Fortner is “free to make that argument in front of a judge in court.”

Comegys is accused of using a county-issued vehicle and cell phone to operate his beauty supply business from July 2020 to April 2021, according to the auditor’s office. He allegedly used the vehicle to travel to multiple salons and barbershops outside Jones County and to the New Orleans airport.

The auditor’s office investigators claim Comegys used his county-owned cell phone “almost exclusively” to operate his personal business.

“Using taxpayer resources or property for your personal benefit is not allowed,” White said in his statement. “This message should be clear to every elected official in the state by now.”

Fortner said it should be noted that the auditor’s office is demanding twice as much money as the auditor says his client is accused of embezzling.

“I’m sure the auditor is going to publicly say that every penny of the public’s money that’s misspent is important and I don’t disagree with them,” he said. “It just seems like, in the overall scheme of things, the state auditor’s investigators’ time would be better spent chasing after significant misspending than some allegation of this fairly minimal amount.

“But quite honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me,” he continued. “We’re going to try this case. I don’t think the auditor can prove Mr. Comegy’s done anything wrong at all.”

Reeves said the investigative costs — calculated using the actual time it takes state auditor’s office investigators to work on a case — can exceed what they ask for in demand letters, especially for smaller amounts. The office’s policy is not to charge people more in investigative expenses than they are accused of misusing.

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If convicted on all counts, Comegys faces up to 10 years in prison and an additional $5,000 in fines.

The case will be prosecuted by Jones County District Attorney Anthony Buckley.

A $100,000 surety bond covers Comegys’s time as a member of the Jones County Board of Supervisors. Surety bonds are similar to insurance designed to protect taxpayers from corruption. Comegys would remain liable for the full amount of the demand, in addition to criminal proceedings.

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.