Crime

Jackson County sheriff: 'We didn't even know the items existed'

JACKSON COUNTY -- The Jackson County Sheriff's Department didn't know some of its equipment was missing when an employee at Dad's Super Pawn called to report a former deputy had just pawned the property, valued at $10,000, for cash.

"The guy at the pawn shop was familiar with the equipment because he sold it to the Sheriff's Office in 2009," Sheriff Mike Ezell said. The pawn shop, he said, also kept a record of the purchase and the county was able to look through purchasing orders from around the same date and find the Sheriff's Office had, in fact, made the purchase.

An investigation followed, with assistance from the FBI, and former Jackson County Deputy Alexander Herman Kieper Jr., was arrested.

Former deputy indicted

A Jackson County grand jury indicted Kieper, a veteran Jackson County deputy who served 18 years until his resignation in 2011, on an embezzlement charge. Kieper served under former four-term Sheriff Mike Byrd, now a twice-convicted felon.

Kieper, court records say, sold various high-end equipment for weapons, including two guns scopes, two gun lenses, two tripod stands for holding the weapons and a pair of binoculars. The receipt showed the items had been purchased with a Department of Homeland Security Grant the Sheriff's Office received in 2006.

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Before Dad's Super Pawn called to report its suspicions, Ezell said, "We didn't even know the items existed. We had no record of them here. It's very disturbing. I believe it's very possible there is other equipment out there that's in somebody else's hands. If we find out about it, we will pursue the case to the full extent of the law."

Kieper, meanwhile, is due in court Wednesday for an arraignment on the embezzlement charge. He's currently out of jail on a $7,500 bond. According to court records, he now works at a car dealership.

Never inventoried

The case, he said, raises concerns in his office about other county-owned property the Sheriff's Office purchased in the past that never got inventoried.

"The things that happened like this -- when all this stuff came up missing -- was during the time Mike Byrd was sheriff," he said.

"If this guy (Kieper) would have went somewhere else, chances are we would have never known about this stuff," Ezell said.

When Byrd stepped down at the end of 2013 amid federal and state charges, Charles Britt became interim sheriff and launched an internal inventory of all of the equipment purchased during Byrd's reign.

The Sheriff's Office and the county inventory-control department conducted the inventory and by July 2014, Jackson County and the Sheriff's Office announced it had accounted for $11 million in items and assets at the Sheriff's Office.

Ezell took office in December 2014. He said he has kept a close eye on inventory control since then. He said there are currently 11 items still missing from the Sheriff's Office inventory.

Items reported missing

Still missing are two large utility trailers, three pairs of night vision goggles, a laser rangefinder for a sniper weapon, a taser, a 32-inch television, a marine GPS and a marine GPS antenna, all valued at thousands of dollars.

That's doesn't include any other items that were never accounted for, Ezell said

Ezell said he's unsure if it was a routine practice not to jot down all items purchased in the past but if it was, he said, things have changed. Said Ezell, "the days of converting property for your own use are over."

New inventory control

Ezell has a full-time deputy assigned to inventory control, he said.

Any equipment that is purchased is inventoried, tagged with an inventory number of it, categorized and signed for," he said. "My goal is to be a good steward for the county and to make sure there are good, sound policy, procedures and practices in place to keep these things from happening in the future."

As for the items still missing from the Sheriff's Office, Ezell said, information on each piece of the equipment has been entered into the National Crime Information Center's database in case it is picked up somewhere.

The serial numbers and other identifying information is included in the description of each missing piece.

Once the inventory was completed, the results were turned over to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. MBI is heading up an investigation into the missing items, though, Ezell said, the Sheriff's Office was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

"We are doing our best out here to straighten some things out and restore the good faith people have put in us as law enforcement officers," Ezell said. "If you have good, sound policies in place, this stuff doesn't happen."

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