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Woman jailed by Claiborne billed for $160,000

[7/9/04]Claiborne County will get back some of the money missing from the tax collector’s office through an insurance policy, but the balance will be a bit more difficult since former Tax Collector Mary Jones is expected to be in prison for five years.

Jones, who resigned in October 2002, was served Tuesday with a $160,000 repayment demand by State Auditor Phil Bryant.

Public officials are required to purchase bonds to repay the public treasury in the event of losses.

Mick Bullock, spokesman for Bryant’s office. was insured for $100,000 by Baltimore-based Zurich North America.

Jones is personally responsible for the rest of the debt, Bullock said.

She was indicted May 25 and pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement. She was sentenced to five years in prison and was ordered to pay restitution and was being held in Claiborne County Jail.

“Mary Jones violated the trust of many taxpayers in Claiborne County,” Bryant said.

The state auditor’s demand includes the amount auditors found missing, $110,502.38, plus interest and investigative costs. The total demand is $160,377.43.

Allen Burrell, Jones’ attorney, could not be reached Thursday.

Jones was elected tax collector in January 1996 and resigned in October 2002, prompted by the investigation then under way. She had worked in the tax collector’s office for 27 years. The audit revealing the missing money covered June 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002.

Doretha Rankin, deputy clerk in the tax collector’s office, pleaded guilty to similar charges in January and was sentenced to six months in jail related to $20,898.34 missing from the office.

Rankin was issued a demand letter Jan. 12 for $25,099.15, which included the investigative and interest costs, Bullock said. The entire debt was paid Jan. 13. The state auditor’s office returned $24,499.55, the principal and interest of the stolen money, to Claiborne County on Feb. 24.