Sentencing begins in Alcorn County corruption probe


Daily Journal

ABERDEEN - William Paul Rhodes will report on April 4 to begin serving more than two years in federal prison.

Rhodes, the former purchasing clerk for Alcorn County, pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud in U.S. District Court in September 2015. Sentencing was delayed until this week.

According to court documents, Rhodes submitted false invoices to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for the clean-up and removal at fictitious and nonexistent dump sites. He faced up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Mills sentenced him to 28 months in prison, 3 years probation and ordered him to pay $5,900 in restitution. The federal prison sentence will be served concurrently with the state sentence imposed on Rhodes last September.

According to investigators with State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office, Rhodes was involved in a web of corruption fostered by former supervisor Jimmy “Dal” Nelms.

Using inside information, Nelms and Rhodes were able to circumvent the bid process. In some cases, the county approved purchases with only one bid. In other cases, sealed bids were opened and false bids were created to make one seem more favorable.

About a week after his federal court plea, Rhodes pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution and two counts of fraud in Alcorn County Circuit Court. On the state charges, Rhodes was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of probation and must pay nearly $80,000 in fines, court costs and restitution.

“I did the crime knowing it was wrong,” Rhodes said at the time. “I have nobody to blame but myself.”

Assistant District Attorney Richard Bowen said Rhodes knew the state auditor’s office was investigating Nelms in February 2014 and used his cellphone to take pictures of the investigators’ notes to tip off Nelms. The fraud charges center around the sale of a county-owned pickup. When the county had an old Ford F-250 to sell, Rhodes created two false low bids. That allowed a cohort to purchase the truck at an artificially low price.

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