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Former chancery clerk’s case in state attorney general’s hands

Nearly nine months after the state’s auditor issued a formal civil demand for payment of more than $165,000 from Lincoln County’s former chancery clerk, the case remains in negotiations.

Tillmon Bishop, who retired in December as chancery clerk after more than 20 years of service, was issued a demand in May by State Auditor Shad White for $165,813.11.

Investigators from White’s office said Bishop failed to reimburse the county for over $125,000 in employee salaries from 2015 to 2018, which was discovered after a field auditor identified accounting irregularities during an audit of Lincoln County. The demand Bishop received includes investigative costs and interest.

Bishop maintains there is no money missing from the county coffers and it was an accounting error.

Bishop’s attorney, Trae Sims of Taggart, Rimes & Graham in Ridgeland, offered an explanation Wednesday.

“It essentially boils down to an accounting issue,” Sims said. “Was money taken by anybody? Is there money missing or was ever missing from the county? No, there’s not. It’s just a matter of what accounts things went through. There was never any dollars missing, that’s for sure.”

Last week, the attorney general’s office confirmed White’s office sent the case to them in June.

Sims said that’s not unusual and said a civil case like Bishop’s is a “collaborative effort” between the two offices.

“Once the AG’s office becomes involved in helping on the case, in my experience that doesn’t necessarily mean the auditor’s office is done with it,” he said. “It’s not unusual for the auditor’s office to have the state’s attorney participate in negotiations when an individual is represented by an attorney. It’s lawyers talking to lawyers.”

Sims said investigations like Bishops are complex and can be likened to a marathon, not a sprint.

“These are cases that due to the nature of them they unfold over time more than they are a single event. They’re typically not over quickly,” he said. “Cases that I handle of this type are almost always months and months, if not longer in duration, because you’ve got a lot to look at. The auditor’s office is busy. They’ve got a lot going on and a lot of work. The AG’s office is the same. My office is the same.”

Former state Treasurer Lynn Fitch was sworn in as attorney general Jan. 9 replacing Jim Hood, who left the office in an unsuccessful bid for governor.

“We, throughout the case have, I think, established a good, positive working relationship through the case with both the auditor’s office and the attorney general’s office and have kept up lines of communication and shared information with them and are hoping we can get this case to an amicable resolution for all involved,” Sims said. “Certainly, we are ready and willing to get the case resolved. A lot of it is on the state’s time frame of when they’re ready to do that. We’ve been working with them and have provided information and participated in negotiations with them over time.”