Watkins again charged with embezzlement

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins has beenindicted on charges of embezzlement by a public officer for thesecond time.

The four-term circuit clerk was arrested Tuesday morning andcharged with 14 counts of embezzlement that allege she stole ormishandled more than $130,000 in public funds circulating throughher office between 2004 and 2006. She was released from the LincolnCounty Jail on her own recognizance shortly after 8:45 a.m.

“It’s basically the same thing we said before,” said DistrictAttorney Dee Bates. “It’s a criminal proceeding the grand juryindicted, the Mississippi auditor’s office worked on, and we willproceed with it as a criminal charge against her. But it’simportant to remember she’s innocent until proven guilty.”

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Watkins now faces more charges for the same alleged crime. Shedeclined to comment on the matter when contacted Tuesday.

An indictment against her from last November was thrown out in ahearing on Jan. 6 when Special Status Judge William Coleman ruledit was too vague to go to trial. The previous indictment’s use ofthe word “or” to separate charges against Watkins and itsdefinition of the missing money as “property of value to LincolnCounty” did not meet specificity requirements by which indictmentsare measured, the judge ruled.

The new indictment clears up the confusion that killed the firstby splitting the previous and/or charges into multiple counts anddefining the missing money as county property instead of propertyof value to the county, Bates said.

“The and/or problem was gotten rid of because there’s extracounts,” he said. “The ‘or’ is the two different ways the statutecould be violated, but now there’s multiple counts.”

The new indictment charges Watkins with embezzling a total of$131,148 on separate occasions between May 2004 and April 2006,with six of the charges alleged in 2004, one in 2005 and one in2006. It alleges the 14 counts constitute “parts of a common schemeor plan.”

The first two counts allege Watkins “willfully, unlawfully andfeloniously did not immediately turn over” $44,023 and $28,827 byan April 15, 2006 deadline. Officials said earlier the almost$73,000 from counts one and two have been repaid to the county.

Counts three through eight allege Watkins “did willfully,unlawfully and feloniously embezzle and convert” almost $58,300 toher own use by withdrawing the money from the Lincoln CountyCriminal Account and Lincoln County Civil Account and depositing itinto the Lincoln County Clerk’s Operating Account.

Counts nine through 14 charge Watkins with failing to repay theapproximately $58,300 still missing.

Bates said Coleman would return as judge in the new trialagainst Watkins. An arraignment date has yet to be established. Thecase should move along quickly, he said.

Watkins, 57, qualified to run for a fifth term as circuit clerkearlier this month.