News » Cover Feature

End of the Honeymoon

Documents reveal that Jones spent thousands for personal expenses and charged them to a county fund set up through the Chamber of Commerce.



In February 2002, Jones asked the Memphis Regional Chamber to reimburse the county $4,295.47 for “expenses associated with our mission to Australia and New Zealand.” This was exactly the amount charged on Jones’ January 2002 MBNA statement. Jones’ attorney now acknowledges nearly all of the charges on that statement were for holiday gift purchases in December 2001. Jones’ November 2001 MBNA statement shows a charge of $3,492.84 for the Little Dix Bay Resort in the Virgin Islands, where his daughter and son-in-law honeymooned in October 2001.
Jim Rout
Among the thousands of dollars of personal charges that former county mayoral aide Tom Jones made on credit cards paid by the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce with county funds were a $5,000 honeymoon for his daughter and $1,700 worth of herbal supplements.

Credit-card statements obtained by The Memphis Flyer also show that Jones spent thousands of dollars for Christmas shopping and paid the bills through the chamber with a check that the chamber thought was for legitimate county travel expenses.

The statements shed new light on the credit-card scandal that has tainted the administration of former county mayor Jim Rout and, in the investigative stage, continues to preoccupy the new administration of Mayor A C Wharton. Jones, who was head of the public-affairs office as well as a top policy-making aide to three county mayors, has said through his attorney, Robert Spence, that it was accepted practice within county government for certain employees to mix personal and county charges on credit cards so long as they repaid them, which Jones says he has done. Spence has also asserted that Jones is being held to a different standard by county internal auditors for charges that fall into a gray area, such as lunches, travel, and tickets to Pyramid events.

But the itemized charges paid by the chamber in connection with an economic-development partnership called Memphis 2005 fell outside of the county's fuzzy internal auditing policies during the Rout years. Over a period spanning December 2000 to August 2002, the personal charges are frequent. Most of them are not remotely related to county business, and the memos from Jones asking the chamber to pay them are, at best, misleading.

"Tom wasn't being 100 percent accurate, and that was wrong," Spence told the Flyer this week. "In attempting to describe what the payments were for, he was incomplete. And that was wrong."

A total of $33,962 was charged by Jones on his personal American Express card or his county MasterCard and passed along to the chamber to pay from unrestricted county funds in the Memphis 2005 account. Jones has, according to Spence, reimbursed the chamber $19,000 for what Spence said are all the personal charges. The credit-card statements have not been independently audited. In any case, the president of the chamber, Marc Jordan, says he was unaware of the practice until recently and would never have tolerated it if he had known about it.

"Based upon the authorization memoranda, you would not have been led to believe any of this was personal," Jordan told the Flyer. "We would not have paid for personal expenses."

Jordan said he had not seen the itemized credit-card statements until the Flyer showed them to him last week.

"I was then and am now disappointed," said Jordan. "I felt like our trust had been completely violated. There is no such thing as a small amount of misappropriated money. But in the context of things I just hope this does not put a damper on the really outstanding work that this partnership has resulted in. There have been many, many positive things."

Based on documents requested and received by the Flyer from the office of Shelby County Attorney Donnie Wilson and reviewed by the Flyer with Jordan and Spence, this is the chronology of the chamber's discovery of the extent of the personal charges. Jones declined to be interviewed on the advice of Spence.

Settling the Memphis 2005 Account

Near the end of August, Jordan got a memo and check for $2,350 from Jones, explaining that he was reimbursing the Memphis 2005 account for a painting in the county executive offices which Jones was taking with him as the administration changed.

Jordan thought this was somewhat unusual. He was more accustomed to writing checks at the request of the county for various programs and expenses related to Memphis 2005 than receiving them. But beyond that, the memo also meant that Jones, whom the chamber had worked closely with, apparently wasn't going to be reappointed by Wharton. That was news to Jordan.

A few days later, Jordan learned that Jones had been suspended for the last week of the Rout administration for personal charges on a county credit card. This was of special interest to Jordan. For three years, the chamber had been making payments directly to credit-card companies on orders from Jones.

In the middle of September, Jordan got a second check from Jones. This one was for $11,121.28 for unspecified "personal expenses." This set off alarms for Jordan. He ordered his staff to find all requests for payment from the county in connection with Memphis 2005.

Going back to 1998, there were 32 such requests for payments totaling $466,355.50. About half of them were to either reimburse the chamber or pay Shelby County Government for expenses such as a conference on Partners for Livable Communities or a joint program on regionalism. The rest were mainly to organizations including Leadership Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Rock 'N' Soul Museum, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis Arts Council, and the Memphis Zoo. There was also a $3,700 check to a Paris hotel for what was explained simply as an "economic development mission" by Jones and Rout.

Of greater concern were 11 other written requests from Jones between September 2000 and May 2002 for payments directly to American Express or MasterCard. These totaled $33,962.23. Jordan did not have itemized bills for any of them, only general requests from Jones noting "mayor's office travel expenses" or "a visit by Senate staffers to discuss transportation priorities for the region" or "our upcoming economic-development mission to Australia and New Zealand."

On September 20th, Jordan wrote Spence, asking for an itemization for the unreimbursed $20,490.95 "to assure us that everything has been properly expensed."

"As part of this itemization, we need to know from the attached list which memorandum the personal expenses should be charged, as well as a breakdown on what the remaining charges were for," he wrote.

Jordan said he needed it within five days. Spence and Jones did not provide it. Spence told Jordan that they had done all they could to find personal charges but couldn't match them to specific memos, partly because Jones' credit-card spending has been under investigation by both county auditors and the FBI. Spence told the Flyer this week that the total reimbursement to the Memphis 2005 account is closer to $19,000, depending on whether certain reimbursements are credited to the county directly or to Memphis 2005.

Last week, the Flyer obtained the itemized credit-card charges, which have not previously been publicly disclosed. The newspaper got only the nine MasterCard statements. The itemized American Express card charges could not be obtained because it is Jones' personal card, not a county credit card.

When the Flyer showed them to Jordan, it was the first time he had seen exactly what "personal expenses" the chamber had paid for with discretionary county funds as well as the other expenses that are still likely to be questioned by investigators. The Flyer also reviewed the credit-card statements with Spence.

"They were county funds used exclusively by and with total discretion by the mayor's office," said Spence. "It wasn't like these were chamber funds. They were county funds being housed at the chamber."

(In addition to being a private attorney, Spence is the city attorney for the city of Memphis. Some of his predecessors have also done that, and Wharton maintained an active private practice while he was the Shelby County public defender. Asked if he had a problem representing a county official in a case of this nature, Spence said, "It's not a problem for me as city attorney, but I wish it would end. It's going to have a longer life than I ever would have thought.")

What the Statements Show

The determination that a specific charge was personal or related to county business was made solely by Jones, not by the chamber or by independent auditors. It isn't possible to tell from the statements which is which or how Jones made the determination. The itemized charges include the following:

* A total of $6,798 for plane tickets and travel expenses for Jones' wife Carolyn and their daughter and son-in-law, Adrienne and Matt Timberlake. At least $5,000 of this appears to be for a honeymoon trip for the Timberlakes, who were married October 6, 2001, to the Virgin Islands and the Little Dix Bay resort. There is an additional charge of $518.30 to Dinstuhl's Candies on October 5, 2001.

* A total of $1,699.95 to Starlight International, a company that sells "herbal supplements for healthy living" on the Internet and supports a network marketing program.

* A total of $1,428.56 for items purchased from gift and catalog-shopping companies such as Red Envelope, Gevalia, Levenger, Scully, Brookstone, and Frontgate. Several of these charges were made in December 2000 and December 2001 in the three weeks before Christmas.

* A payment of $805 to

* A total of $1,187 for tickets to events at The Pyramid.

* A total of $1,457.05 for books and music.

* A total of $202.32 to Sunrise Builders Supply in Horn Lake, Mississippi.

* A total of $3,180.36 for plane or train tickets purchased in the name of Tom Jones or for rental cars (which do not have the name of the person making the rental). The destinations include Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Columbus (Ohio), and Boston. Jones was on numerous public boards and traveled frequently for his job.

The credit-card statements cannot be correlated charge-for-charge with the memos requesting payment that Jones sent to the chamber. Six payments to the MasterCard account do correlate exactly, at least as to the dollar amount. For example, on February 11, 2002, Jones requested that the chamber pay $4,295.47 to MasterCard "as we pay for expenses associated with our mission to Australia and New Zealand." And on April 28, 2002, he requested another payment of $3,838.83 for the now well-publicized Australia trip with Rout, Kevin Kane of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and their wives.

Payments in exactly those amounts show up on the credit-card statements. But there are no specific charges that appear to be related to an Australia trip. Coincidentally, perhaps, the January itemized statement lists purchases of exactly $4,295.47 between December 6th and January 2nd, mainly for catalog or Internet shopping.

Spence confirmed to the Flyer that these are personal charges for Christmas shopping.

The Honeymoon

On October 6, 2001, Jones' daughter Adrienne married Matt Timberlake.

MasterCard statements show that Tom Jones charged $1,276.20 for American Airlines tickets for the couple for an October 7th departure to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and from San Juan to the Virgin Islands. He also charged $518.30 to Dinstuhl's Candies on October 5th and $3,492.84 for "Little Dix Bay St. John Virgin Islands" for an arrival date of October 13, 2001. The names of the people who went to Little Dix Bay do not appear on the statement.

Spence confirmed that these charges were all for the honeymoon.

"It was expedient, and it was easy," Spence said. "For so many years, he had mixed business and personal charges, and it was easy."

These charges, along with other charges, were paid by the chamber with county funds in the Memphis 2005 account at the request of Jones. There is a payment of $1,850 on the December 2001 statement and a payment of $2,776 on the January 2002 statement. In September, Jones had requested a check for $1,850 "for payment of travel expenses for the mayor's office." In October, Jones requested a check for $2,776 from the chamber without listing any purpose.

"The memos to Marc ... that was wrong," Spence said.

He insisted, however, that Jones did not intend to deceive the chamber or the county and was not trying to hide expenses from county finance officers.

"I suggest that the intent was not to get something for free," Spence said. "The finance division in the county also got the credit-card statements with the honeymoon expenses on them."

The head of the Division of Finance and Administration at that time, John Trusty, was not reappointed by Wharton and took a civil service job with the county.

Spence said the use of county credit cards for personal expenses "goes back years, four, six, or eight years or longer. There was no policy against it."

He acknowledged that "Tom probably used his credit card for personal uses a great deal more than others."

The Overseers

Jim Rout, who worked side by side with Jones for eight years, said he "did not know" Jones was putting personal expenses on the credit card that was being paid by the chamber of commerce.

"My only understanding of any relation with the chamber was that the 2005 account was for appropriate issues related to goals and objectives of Memphis 2005, such as regionalism, employee training, minority business, that kind of thing," Rout said.

Rout, who now works for Jack Morris Auto Glass, said it was "my understanding" that personal charges on county cards were to be reimbursed by the employee and that even personal charges were supposed to be related to county business, as, for example, when an employee's spouse went along on a business trip or came to a business dinner for elected officials.

"That was done over eight years without anyone coming from finance and administration and saying, 'Don't do this,'" Rout said.

The former mayor and longtime county commissioner said he never had a talk with Jones about credit-card policy, except possibly in a general discussion after Rout was first elected mayor. In addition to Jones, top aides Bobby Lanier and Jim Kelly and division directors had county credit cards, Rout said. (Mayor Wharton has called in all county credit cards and issued a new set of proposed ethical guidelines.)

Speaking from his office at Jack Morris, Rout said he did not have a copy of the county credit-card policy during his administration, but he acknowledged that the people who held the credit cards ultimately had discretion to determine which personal charges should be incurred and reimbursed. The assumption, he said, was that such charges should be repaid within a month. "Tom got behind," he said.

Asked if there were any circumstances that might conceivably justify putting honeymoon expenses on a county credit card, Rout said, "I cannot think of any."

Marc Jordan said he did not know the chamber was paying for any of Jones' personal expenses, regardless of whether or not he planned to reimburse them.

"No," he said. "Absolutely not."

The city of Memphis is also a partner in the Memphis 2005 program but used its discretionary funds for items like the Mayor's Youth Initiative.

"Never were we asked [by the city] to remit any funds to a credit card," Jordan said.

Asked if he saw anything unusual at the time about the county's requests for such payments, Jordan said he assumed the county finance department had internal checks and balances, and therefore he did not ask for itemized receipts or credit card statements. Moreover, Jones was a trusted senior adviser to three mayors.

"The bottom line to me was that this was all authorized in writing by Tom Jones as expenses related to the mayor's office and economic development, which did fall under the general parameters of the program and was allowed for in the partnership" he said.

The chamber, he said, is in the process of reviewing and tightening both its internal and external payment policies.

Jones and the Media

Under other circumstances, this is the sort of story Tom Jones could have helped on. He came to wear so many hats that it's sometimes overlooked that his primary one was head of public affairs for Shelby County. Reporters, politicians, and public employees sought his perspective, analysis, and advice for more than 25 years. He was a friend of this reporter for 20 years, starting with the brief period in 1982 when I covered the county beat for The Commercial Appeal.

We never met one another's families or went to each other's homes, but we had lunch together several times. I mention that only because lunches are at issue in the county's internal audit of Jones' expenses. I am listed on the audit only once as a lunch guest, but I could understand how Jones might have several business lunches a week, with or without the mayor.

Jones did a considerable service for county government. He was the mouthpiece for three mayors, the house intellectual, and often the policy-maker too. He helped give Shelby County equal stature with the city of Memphis and served it especially well during the lean years.

Modern county government wasn't even invented until the mid-1970s. Few people thought the first county mayor, Roy "Skip" Nixon, was in any sense the peer of his city counterpart, Wyeth Chandler. Ten years later, few doubted that Nixon's successor, Bill Morris, was the peer of his counterpart, Dick Hackett.

Jones had something to do with that. Hackett's top aide, the late Paul Gurley, was protective, distrustful of the press and a pain to deal with. Jones was open and pleasant and, until the last couple of years, accessible. When reporters came by to chat, they were welcomed. What effect this had on county coverage until recently is hard to say, but it certainly didn't hurt, from the administration's point of view at least.

With his words, good humor, and ideas like Free the Children, Jones made Morris, whose long suits were energy and enthusiasm, seem visionary and reasonably coherent too. Sometimes, Jones, who kept a shelf of books by and about the monk Thomas Merton in his office, would put big words in a speech just to hear Morris mangle them. He retained the skepticism of a reporter, which he once was for the Memphis Press-Scimitar. He was always his own man, and his cynicism and wit could be scathing, while his compassion could make you cry. At the funeral for a tough old reporter named Kay Pittman Black a few years ago, Jones gave a beautifully moving eulogy without being maudlin.

Jones' knowledge of county and city history since 1970 was encyclopedic. He also knew the secrets, the open ones and who knows how many more. What impact the as-yet unwritten dark side of county government over the last 25 years may have had on his reckless personal spending of county funds, only Tom Jones knows.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment