Lee County Schools transportation director says he followed orders

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The 2006 Ford Ranger pickup truck Lee County School District Business Manager Randy Thweatt is alleged to have embezzled was signed over to Thweatt by the district’s transportation director, according to records obtained by a Daily Journal public records request.
Ralph Capps, the transportation director, signed the document transferring ownership of the truck to Thweatt on Feb. 16 of this year. Capps said in a phone interview Thursday he signed the document as the seller because he was told to do so.
“I was acting under the authority of my boss to do what he advised me to do,” Capps said.
Asked what boss he was referring to, Capps said Thweatt, who was above him on the organizational chart.
Thweatt was arrested by officials from the State Auditor’s Office on April 17 and was indicted on two counts of embezzlement – involving the pickup truck and a district air conditioning unit he is alleged to have installed on a mobile home he owns.
Both Thweatt and Capps were placed on paid administrative leave on April 17. The school board changed that to unpaid leave on April 24. No charges have been filed against Capps.
Efforts to contact Thweatt for comment were unsuccessful.
According to the documentation obtained by the Daily Journal, the school district purchased the truck on Feb. 17, 2010, from Southern Imports for $3,900. It was damaged when the district bought it, and Capps signed the bill of sale.
Capps said it was a routine purchase and that he didn’t sign off on the purchase with an intent to transfer the truck to Thweatt. It came across his desk, and he signed it, he said.
“I was thinking it was for the school,” Capps said. “I didn’t know all of this.”
A purchase order filed on that day describes the item as “parts” rather than as a truck. When asked about the description, Lee County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said it is why the district couldn’t originally find a record of the truck in its inventory.
“Because it was listed as parts, no one had any idea a truck had been purchased,” Weeks said.
The purchase order was signed by both Thweatt and Capps. Capps said he didn’t write the “parts” description and he didn’t know why it said that.
The Daily Journal had filed a request after the arrest for any documents related to the purchase of the pickup truck.
On the district’s title for the vehicle, signed by the state tax commission on Oct. 11, 2010, the truck is listed as having 54,750 miles. When Thweatt filed an application for the certificate of title on Feb. 16, 2012, it was listed with 78,860 miles.
Meanwhile, the school district has hired an interim business manager and interim transportation director. Bobbie Sparks, who had previously done school finance work in Tishomingo County and Corinth, is filling the business manager role, and Judy Hill is serving as transportation director. Hill had previously retired after working for both Tupelo and Lee County Schools.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com