By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Randy Thweatt, Lee County Schools’ former business manager, will spend one year on house arrest after he pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement Wednesday.
Thweatt, 50, sobbed into his hands after Circuit Judge Paul Funderburk announced the decision – leniency in the face of up to 50 years in prison and $40,000 in fines.
Indicted by a Lee County grand jury in April, Thweatt heard Funderburk sentence him to 10 years in prison, then alter it for house arrest and suspend a second 10-year sentence. He also must serve a five-year supervised probation after the house arrest.
However, the judge warned, he will go straight to prison if he violates any conditions of the house arrest program.
“You had an excellent reputation, obviously until recently,” Funderburk told Thweatt. “A person’s reputation is worth something to this court.
“The fact that you lived a decent law-abiding life to this point has a large bearing on my decision. It’s like money in the bank. You may have to draw on it, and that’s what you’ve done here today.”
Thweatt was arrested April 17 at the Lee County School District office by officials of the State Auditor’s Office after he was indicted on two counts of embezzlement involving a 2006 Ford Ranger pickup truck and a district air-conditioning unit he was accused of installing in a Starkville mobile home he owns.
Thursday, District Attorney Trent Kelly did not offer a sentence recommendation but noted that three other embezzlement charges related to a school district aluminum trailer, a golf cart and grass sod would not be prosecuted, as well as an obstruction of justice charge, which arose between his indictment and contacting a potential witness for evidence.
Thweatt’s attorney, Robert “Chip” Davis of Tupelo, asked Funderburk for probation or what’s called non-adjudication, when a judge orders a probationary period to be completed without problems, then the conviction will be erased.
After the sentence, Kelly expressed appreciation to the State Auditor’s Office for its investigation and work on the case.
Thweatt’s sentence hearing began last week but was delayed until Wednesday. Funderburk also ordered him to pay $5,090 restitution to the school district and nearly $8,000 to the auditor’s office for its costs. Davis said the truck, air conditioning unit, trailer, golf cart and sod were returned to the district.
Before sentencing was announced, the judge heard from character witnesses David Anthony, a church friend, and former Lee Schools Superintendent Johnny Green, as well as a statement read by Thweatt’s wife. About a dozen friends were in the courtroom for the hearing.
The judge told Thweatt that the multiple nature of his offenses caused him to believe the transgressions were not “one isolated event.” He also reserved the right to review the situation in one year.
His indictment alleged illegal acts between April 2010 and February 2012. Prior to sentence, Thweatt told the court he earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University and is unemployed. He retired from the school district shortly after his indictment.
Thweatt’s wife read an emotional statement, terming her husband “the love of my life. I trust him completely.”
“He would never intentionally harm anyone or take anything that doesn’t belong to him,” she said.
Thweatt twice declined to speak for himself, and after sentencing he and Davis again declined comment.
Anthony said Thweatt voluntarily resigned as their church’s financial manager after his indictment and said he believed the Deacon Council would take him back, if he wanted to resume the job.
“I believe his character to be of a high standard,” Anthony said under oath. “I can’t explain this behavior, but I do call upon the mercy of this court. It would be a waste.”
Green, who said he’d known Thweatt since 1996, termed his friend “a good-hearted, kind-hearted person,” who gave freely to people in need and mentored young men from his Sunday school class.