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TRUMP’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS BRING EARLY RELEASE FOR BOLTON

 

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Former Forrest County Chief Deputy Charles Bolton has been released eight months early under The First Step Act, the criminal justice reform legislation that President Trump signed into law in December 2018.

Bolton was released just before Thanksgiving to a federal halfway house here. Under the terms of his original sentence, which included a 12-month enhancement for food theft, he would have served until July 2020. HPNM has not yet learned how long Bolton will spend at the halfway house.

Trump was quoted by Vox.com earlier this year as saying that previous sentencing laws have harmed the African-American community “wrongly and disproportionately,” and that the First Step Act offers redemption by allowing nonviolent offenders to reenter society as productive citizens. The act affects only the federal prison system, which involves about 181,000 of the 2.1 million people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails.

The Vox.com article outlines these major points of The First Step Act:

• It makes the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 – which made the sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine more similar – retroactive, affecting some 2,600 federal inmates.
• It makes several changes to ease mandatory minimum sentences, for example by reducing the sentence for the “three strikes” rule to an automatic 25 years instead of life.
• It increases “good time credits” from 47 days to 54 days per year, which means well-behaved inmates can cut an additional week each year. This change is retroactive and
qualifies some 4,000 prisoners for early release.
• It allows inmates “earned time credits” for taking vocational and rehabilitative programs.
These credits allow early release to halfway houses or home confinement. The hope is that education programs will reduce the likelihood of the inmate commit additional crimes once released.

Charles Bolton and his wife, Linda, were indicted in March 2016 on five counts of attempted tax evasion and five counts of filing false tax returns and went to trial in September 2016 in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett. Charles Bolton was convicted on four counts of attempted tax evasion and five counts of filing false tax returns and Linda Bolton was convicted on five counts of filing false tax returns.

The tax fraud case arose out of a 2014 investigation into whether Bolton, chief deputy since 1992, and others were stealing food from the Forrest County Juvenile and Adult Detention Center. Charges were not filed against Bolton as a result of the investigation, which was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office. However, statements about Charles Bolton’s participation in the thefts were included in the Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR) for the Boltons’ 2016 trial in federal district court and were the basis for the court’s decision that the food thefts were relevant conduct for purposes of sentencing and calculating loss and restitution amounts.

“Stolen food equals income,” Judge Starrett said when he sentenced Charles Bolton. “…Mr. [Alan] Harelson [and Mr. [Jerry Wayne] Woodland stood right there before me, under oath, and admitted to … how they had defrauded the Forrest County Jail for 12 years, beginning in 2002 and going all the way to 2014, and a lot of what they said involved the Boltons….

“But the story doesn’t end there. The court had access to and read, as the lawyers had access to and read, copies of interviews of a number of other people who were not interested in the case…. We’re not talking about one or two people. We’re not talking about people with an axe to grind. Their testimony did not just implicate the Boltons.

“The Pre-Sentencing Report, which was not objected to as to the factual statements at all, is replete with statements from witnesses and participants and people that worked at the jail and people that didn’t work at the jail about the food thefts that started in 2002 and continued until 2014….,” Starrett said, speaking directly to Bolton. “I believe what they said.  There was a culture of corruption in the Forrest County Jail, and you knew it and you allowed it to go on…, and not only knew about it but participated in it for 10 years…. That is so troubling to me.  This cannot be ignored.  There are good people in Forrest County that deserve honest government.”

Bolton stated, “I did not do that.” Judge Starrett informed him that it was not his turn to talk.

Charles Bolton was sentenced to 43 months in prison with three years of supervised release and a $10,000 fine and Linda Bolton was sentenced to 30 months in prison with one year of supervised release and a $6,000 fine. Both were given responsibility for restitution of $145,849.78.

The restitution amount covers unpaid taxes for almost $28,500 in stolen food from the detention center and is based on a total loss amount of almost $146,000, as determined by the U.S. District Court; it also includes taxes owed on income the Boltons received from local attorney John Lee but hid by reporting it as loans.

The Boltons appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the convictions and sentences in October 2018 but did rule that restitution payments of $1,000 monthly would not begin until the Boltons began their supervised release.

LifeSpine says Greenwood Doctor Marsha Lucas did not receive compensation in alleged kickback scheme

The husband of Marsha Lucas of Greenwood – who is listed along with three other Mississippi physicians as a consultant to Life Spine, a medical devices company charged in a major federal kickback case – has contacted HPNM with documents that contradict court filings filed by whistleblower plaintiffs in the civil action.

Marsha Lucas is a pathologist who practices medicine at Lucas Pathology in Greenwood. Her husband, general surgeon John Fair Lucas III, says that she has no association with Life Spine.

“My wife is Marsha Lucas. She is a pathologist and has never done surgery, never made a surgical referral and never accepted a kickback from anyone,” he wrote. Dr. Fair requested a retraction from HPNM or a copy of the documents upon which its article was based. Once he received the federal complaint, Fair contacted Life Spine as well as the attorney who filed the case in New York.

Lucas has forwarded a statement from the corporate counsel of Life Spine confirming that Dr. Marsha Lucas has no association with the company.

“I can confirm that Dr. Marsh Lucas was never a consultant for Life Spine, Inc., and never provided any surgical feedback on our products,” corporate counsel Heather Glaser wrote. “As such, Dr. Marsha Lucas never received a payment from Life Spine.

“Again, I apologize that your wife was wrongly included in these allegations. If anything else is needed to aid you in seeking a correction, please let us know.”

John Lucas told HPNM he spoke with attorney Christopher Ayers, who filed the case, and that Ayers said Marsha Lucas’ name will not appear in any future filings. Lucas stated that Ayers also said he will try to locate and forward the source document that was used to include Marsha Lucas’ name in Exhibit A, which lists physician-consultants associated with Life Spine.

Marsha Lucas received the doctor of medicine degree from Duke University in 1984 and served a residency at Duke University Medical Center. Her husband, John Fair Lucas III, is a fourth-generation physician who grew up in Greenwood. He received the doctor of medicine degree from Duke University in 1988 and served his residency at Duke’s Medical Center. He practices medicine at the Lucas Surgical Group, as did his father, John Fair Lucas Jr.

Four Mississippi physicians were named as consultants in Exhibit A of the federal complaint against Life Spine, Inc., a medical devices company charged in a major kickback case in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Hattiesburg neurosurgeon David Lee; former Hattiesburg and Jackson neurosurgeon Michael Molleston, now deceased; and Louis Rosa of Starkville also were listed in Exhibit A. None of the doctors mentioned have been charged with any crimes at this time. Lee is an employee of Southern Bone and Joint and on staff at both Forrest General Hospital and Merit Hospital; he operates at all three facilities.

Government attorneys charge Life Spine with offering money and investment opportunities to physicians across the United States for using the company’s devices during certain spine surgeries and procedures. Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for 4 p.m. February 7, 2020. (Click here to read HPNM’s article.)

Dr. Marsha Lucas GreenwoodOnline information which purports to report compensation paid to doctors showed no compensation to Lucas, but revealed Dr. David Lee received almost $180,000.

Dr. David Lee

 

DR. DAVID LEE AND OTHERS IDENTIFIED IN ALLEGED KICKBACK SCHEME

Hattiesburg neurosurgeon David Lee and three other Mississippi physicians are listed as consultants who engaged in improper quid pro quo with Life Spine, Inc., a medical devices company the federal government has charged in a major federal kickback case taking place in New York. Life Spine designs, develops, manufactures and markets products for the surgical treatment of spinal disorders.

The case is set for oral arguments at 4 p.m. February 7, 2020, before Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the U.S.District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Government attorneys charge Life Spine with offering money and investment opportunities to physicians across the United States for using the company’s devices during certain spine surgeries and procedures.  Mississippi doctors recruited by Life Spine include Lee; the late Michael Molleston, a neurosurgeon who practiced most recently in Jackson but operated for many years in Hattiesburg; Marsha Lucas of Greenwood; and Louis Rosa of Starkville.  Lee is an employee of Southern Bone and Joint and on staff at both Forrest General Hospital and Merit Hospital; he operates at all three facilities.

“Life Spine’s entire business model revolved around kickbacks,” the government complaint states.  “Defendants’ kickback scheme involved a business model that incentivized physicians to use Life Spine’s medical devices by rewarding them with lucrative consulting agreements and investment opportunities (via warrants for purchase of shares) in Life Spine’s business, as an illegal quid pro quo.

“In addition, Defendants offered illegal remuneration to the physician-consultants in the form of reimbursement, to induce the physicians to use Life Spine’s medical devices while performing certain surgical spine-related procedures.”

The complaint charges that under the alleged kickback scheme, Life Spine entered into improper consulting agreements with the physicians, who agreed to help market the company’s products to other surgeons and to help train surgeons and other employees. Consultants earned at least $500 per hour, with rates depending on the type of device and the discussion and assistance provided.

The complaint also charges that the surgeons agreed to use Life Spine medical devices exclusively, or almost exclusively, on their own patients, many of whom were covered by Medicare or other government health-care programs.  Consultants who brought in more than $2 million annually in sales for Life Spine were able to purchase shares in the company at prices below market (as many as 35,000 shares at one cent per share). The agreements include not transfer of intellectual property, the federal complaint says.

“Defendants only offers consulting agreements to physicians who agree to use its medical devices in their surgeries and meet certain sales volume. The consulting relationship is not based on providing any follow-up product review, feedback or evaluation, or other consulting work, but instead based on a tacit condition that the physician-consultants use Life Spine products. In turn, Life Spine pays the physician-consultants for this work without requiring any such product evaluation, review or feedback.

“In other words, the Life Spine consulting positions are sham consulting jobs that are intended to operate as channels for selling Life Spine’s medical devices for use in spine-related surgeries on the patients of Life Spine physician-consultants.”

NUMEROUS VIOLATIONS

The 72-page complaint filed by federal attorneys lists numerous violations of the False Claims Act, the Anti Kickback Statute, the Stark Statute and the Physicians Payment Sunshine Act. Also, it charges Life Spine with illegal termination of four employees who reported violations of the Sunshine Act.

The complaint also alleges that Life Spine’s kickback scheme has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of false claims to be submitted to – and paid by – Medicaid, Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, Medicare Part D and other government programs, according to government attorneys.  The complaint says that the scheme similarly cheated the state governments involved in the court case.

The False Claims Act dates back to the Civil War but was last updated in 2009 to streamline the government’s ability to recover losses from fraud, to protect those who reveal government fraud, and to encourage lawyers to prosecute government fraud cases.

The False Claims Act includes a provision that prohibits retaliation against an employee who tries to stop government fraud.  The law awards not only reinstatement to a person who is retaliated against, but also double the amount of lost back pay, interest on the back pay, and special damages such as attorney fees and court costs.

The Anti-Kickback Statute is formally known as the Medicare and Medicaid Patient Protection Act, 42, U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b).  This law was created to protect vulnerable patients by preventing  the occurrence of goods and services that are medically unnecessary, poor in quality or outright harmful. It bans offers of money or anything else of value for encouraging or recommending the purchase of any item to be paid for by a federally funded health care program.

Violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute can bring criminal and civil penalties, and it can mean exclusion from participating in health care programs that are federally funded.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act both require companies to submit a report when anything of value is transferred to physicians.   The Sunshine Act requires medical device manufacturers to reveal all payments or other transfers of value made to physicians or teaching hospitals. It also requires certain manufacturers to state when physicians  have ownership or investment interests in their companies.

None of the doctors mentioned in the government’s case against Life Spine, Inc., have been charged with any crimes at this time.

 

WOULLARD’S USE OF DISTRICT 4 REC FUNDS EXAMINED BY STATE AUDITOR

A source with first-hand knowledge told HPNM that the Office of the State Auditor began examining District 4 Supervisor Rod Woullard’s use of county funds as early this summer.  The investigation involved funds spent from the District 4 Recreation Fund and focused on his use of those funds to employ Sandra Thompson.

Each Supervisor in Forrest County has a Recreation Fund, part of the General Fund, from which they direct monies to recreational projects or activities. HPNM has learned that Woullard used District 4 Recreation Funds to hire Thompson as a Special Project Officer for District 4 in June 2007. That’s prohibited by state law. “All employees of the county shall be employees of the county as a whole and not of any particular supervisor district.” (Mississippi State Code Ann., §19-2-9)

Various county records – from Board of Supervisors’ minutes to a workers’ compensation claim – clearly identify her as a Special Project Officer whose work centered on recreational programs and activities in District 4. District 4 Recreation Funds were used to pay her salary and travel, with the approval of the Board of Supervisors. Woullard is the only Forrest County supervisor who has paid an employee directly from Recreation Funds.

Ms. Thompson was hired initially at $12.00 an hour, but advanced quickly and received regular raises. Here’s what HPNM found:

June 21, 2007                   $12.00
February 4, 2008               $13.75
April 4, 2008                      $14.44
January 22, 2009               $16.35
County-wide Raise              $17.85
August 11, 2014                $18.85
County-wide Raise 2016     $19.79
September 6, 2018            Voluntary Resignation

Ms. Thompson drove a county vehicle and used county-provided fuel. She worked from an office Woullard provided at The First Tee of The Pine Belt, in a facility he says he built in 2008 as District 4 Supervisor. Her job was to plan, direct and promote District 4 recreation programs.  The source of funds used to build the charity’s facility are currently under investigation by HPNM.

Thompson was named Executive Director of First Tee of the Pine Belt in June 2007. This means that somehow she answered phones and handled other duties connected with the charity while holding down a full-time job as District 4’s Special Project Officer for recreation. First Tee of the Pine Belt, a non-profit that uses golf to build character and teach healthy choices to young people, is described online as the brainchild of Rod Woullard.

Outside employment is not forbidden by the county. This is what the Forrest County Employee Handbook says:

No employee may engage in employment which could cause a conflict of interest or use his County employment for personal gain. Outside employment must not interfere with performance of duties for Forrest County.

For the record, county attorney David Miller says that Ms. Thompson was a county employee, not a District 4 employee.  However, here’s a description he provided of Ms. Thompson’s duties from a 2016 submission for workers’ compensation:

Ms. Thompson’s position as a Special Project Officer involves planning and directing various recreation programs for the citizens of District 4, facilitating the participation of the City of Hattiesburg, the Hattiesburg Public School District, and local non-profit entities in such programs, and communicating with the public regarding the nature and availability of such programs. Ms. Thompson’s work also involves various administrative and clerical tasks such as record-keeping, data collection, and reporting. (Parentheses added by HPNM)

Re-read the italicized words in the paragraph above and you’ll see that Ms. Thompson’s involvement with First Tee of the Pine Belt allows her to kill two birds with one stone: First Tee is a local non-profit entity and it benefits young people (presumably found at Hattiesburg Public School District).

WHO’S MINDING THE STORE?

HPNM has been told that board members consider Recreation Funds discretionary and generally respect their fellow supervisors’ decisions on how the funds are spent. Courteous, right? It’s lawful. We know that because a vote is taken. The net effect of this courtesy, though, is that supervisors give each other carte blanche in spending taxpayer money from Recreation Funds. That can amount to tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars over an period of years.

Consider Ms. Thompson’s salary. She started out in June 2007 making $24,960 a year. In roughly six months she received a salary bump and went to an annual salary of $28,600. Two months later, she again received a bump, to $30,035. Her 2009 raise brought her annual income to $34,008, and a subsequent county-wide raise increased it again, to $37,128. In 2014, Ms. Thompson received another pay increase; her salary then was $39,208. A 2016 county-wide raise brought her annual salary to $41,163.

Woullard is the only Supervisor to possess two County vehicles.

Ms. Thompson voluntarily resigned in September 2018. The vehicle she drove, inexplicably, is parked at Supervisor  Woullard’s residence, along with his county-provided vehicle.

HPNM has requested additional information from Forrest County, including copies of any reports or work products Ms. Thompson provided to the board and copies of any communications to or from the State Auditor’s Office regarding the administration of county Recreation Funds. HPNM’s investigation into Woullard’s use of District 4’s Recreation fund is ongoing and an update will be provided in the coming weeks.

HOMESTEAD FILING RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT DA CANDIDATE DECARLO HOOD’S RESIDENCY

(Specific addresses are not mentioned in this article. The Patriot also has redacted addresses and other sensitive information in attachments out of an abundance of respect for the public records laws, which protect that information for law enforcement, judges and court personnel.)

The wife of Forrest County district attorney candidate DeCarlo Hood filed a false        application for homestead exemption in Lamar County earlier this year. She was allowed to correct it a few months later, in accordance with state law.

• The new application for homestead exemption was necessary because ownership of the Lamar County house, located in Hattiesburg, was deeded to Hood’s wife in January 2018.

• Hood listed a rented apartment as his home address when he filed his qualifying papers to run for the office of Forrest County district attorney. However, he appeared to be staying with his wife at the Lamar County home during most of the month of March, when HPNM received a tip and conducted numerous spot checks.

• By April, the Lamar County house was put up for sale. Hood reportedly was made aware of the HPNM spot checks of the Lamar County property.

• Nothing in the above scenario, as described, is illegal. However, it raises questions, and perhaps eyebrows, as to the accuracy of the candidate’s campaign information and as to his intentions regarding his permanent residence. Full details are below.

Chaka Jackson, wife of Forrest County district attorney candidate DeCarlo Hood, filed a false application for homestead exemption application in Lamar County on February 8, 2019. When Ms. Jackson, also known as Chaka Jackson-Hood, applied for homestead exemption at the Lamar County Tax Assessor’s Office that day, she reportedly claimed that she and Hood are divorced, and that no vehicle is registered to her name. She signed the application for homestead exemption as Chaka Jackson.

Ms. Jackson was not asked that day to produce a copy of the divorce decree. However, the Hattiesburg Patriot’s investigation triggered an inquiry by the Lamar County Tax Assessor, who sent a letter to Ms. Jackson in late March notifying her of the discrepancies in her application and requesting a copy of the divorce paperwork.

Ms. Jackson is said to have been unable to provide that documentation. According to the Lamar County Tax Assessor’s Office, Ms. Jackson was allowed to file another application for homestead exemption in April, in accordance with state law. The corrected application states that she and Hood are separated.

Hood’s campaign website clearly states that he is married to Chaka Jackson-Hood and that they have two children. The Hattiesburg Patriot has been unable to locate Chancery Court records of any divorce action involving the couple but has learned that a car with a Lamar County tag is registered to Ms. Jackson at an address with a Hattiesburg post office box.

There’s More

Ms. Jackson had until April but filed for homestead exemption in February, the same month her husband qualified to run for Forrest County district attorney. To qualify, candidates for Forrest County district attorney must live in Forrest County. Historically, Hood and Chaka Jackson-Hood have not lived in Forrest County. Instead, they have lived within the Hattiesburg city limits, but in Lamar County.

Hood appears to have handled the residency hurdle. His campaign paperwork lists his address as an apartment in Forrest County. However, the Hattiesburg Patriot received a tip earlier this year that Hood had not spent much quality time at his new apartment and that his family continued to live at the Lamar County home.

HPNM confirmed this information during the last three weeks of March by conducting numerous late-night and early morning spot checks of the Lamar County home and by talking with neighbors at the Forrest County apartment.

Here’s a rough timeline:

January 10, 2018   DeCarlo Hood and his wife, Chaka Jackson, execute a quit claim deed                                    for their Lamar County home, deeding the property to Chaka Jackson.                                  The deed is filed January 16, 2018, with the Lamar County Chancery                                    Clerk.

Summer 2018         Hood rents an apartment at a complex in Ward 1. His qualifying papers                                  for the district attorney race list this apartment as his address.

February 8, 2019   Chaka Jackson files a new homestead exemption application for the                                      property with the Lamar County Tax Office. In doing so, she states to a                                  clerk that she is divorced, and that no vehicle is registered in her name.                                  The clerk enters the information and Ms. Jackson then signs the                                            application under penalty of perjury.

March 2019            HPNM talks to neighbors at the apartment complex who say they                                          have seen DeCarlo Hood, but only a rare handful of times. One has                                        noticed  children there.

March 2019            City water bills for the property that was quit-claimed to Ms. Jackson in                                  January 2018 are still listed in Hood’s name.

March 2019             During the last three weeks of the month, Hood’s county-provided                                        vehicle is parked at the Lamar County home each time HPNM conducts                                  a late-night or early-morning spot check.

April 2019              Chaka Jackson files a corrected homestead exemption application to                                     reflect that she and Hood are separated.  This action puts Hood’s name                                 back on  the homestead as non-occupying joint owner and spouse.

Early April 2019     A For Sale by Owner sign appears in the yard of the Lamar County                                       home.

October 2019        The For Sale by Owner sign remains in the yard of the Lamar County                                     home.

DeCarlo Hood is well within the bounds of Mississippi election law in renting a Ward 1 apartment and establishing permanent residency in Forrest County so that he can campaign for the office of Forrest County District Attorney. However, some actions he and/or Chaka Jackson have taken could be perceived as confusing or possibly even deceptive.

  • Why did the Hood’s execute that quit claim deed and put the house in Ms. Jackson’s name?
  • Was DeCarlo Hood aware of his wife’s intention to file a false application for homestead exemption?
  • If the two are married, as Hood states on his campaign web site, why didn’t Ms. Jackson and the children move with Hood last summer to Forrest County?
  • Does Hood intend to continue living in Forrest County regardless of the outcome of the district attorney election? In other words, has he established a permanent residence in Forrest County?

We can’t answer any of these questions. The best we can do is examine the law and Attorney General opinions regarding residency requirements for candidates and homestead exemptions.

To Qualify for District Attorney…
The following requirements for candidates for district attorney are taken directly from the Secretary of State’s website at the candidate qualifications page (click here to go to the site http://www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-Voting/Documents/Qualifications):

DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Qualifications: A qualified elector of the district and a practicing attorney admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Mississippi for two years. Miss. Code Ann. §25‐31‐1.
Political Party Candidates: $250 paid to the appropriate state party executive committee.
Independent Candidates: $250 paid to the Secretary of State’s Office, and petition filed with the Secretary of State containing signatures of not less than 100 qualified electors of district.

State law defines a qualified elector as a person whose name the circuit clerk has placed on the electronic voter roll as “properly registered and qualified to vote” and who is a resident of the  county or municipal school district. (The full definition is at Miss. Code Ann. §37-65-123.)

Ultimately, it’s the Forrest County Election Commission’s responsibility to decide whether DeCarlo Hood meets residency requirements. Here are some key court cases and AG opinions that address questions about candidates, where they live, and their eligibility to run for public office:

Court Cases on Residency
1. In election law, residency and domicile are the same. Once established, a legitimate residence continues until it’s abandoned in favor of another with no intent to return. Hubbard v. McKey, 193 So.2d 129 (Miss. 1966)

2. A candidate’s filing for homestead exemption creates a “strong but rebuttable presumption” that the property for which the homestead exemption is filed is the candidate’s residence for election purposes. Hinds County Election Commission v. Brinston, 671 So.2d 667 (Miss.1966)

3. Filing for homestead exemption conclusively establishes domicile for electoral purposes, even if circumstances indicate the existence of ties to other counties. Gadd v. Thompson, 517 So.2d 576 (1987); Hollowell v. Vandevender, 358 So.2d 1328 (1978).

4. Intent is the foundation of residency and can be established by physical presence, declaration of intent, and all relevant facts and circumstances. Of these, declarations of the individual are most important. If there is no declaration of intent, and no acts demonstrating a contrary intent, long-continued residency is almost “unavoidably conclusive” in deciding residency. Ownership of personal or real property is not necessary to establish permanent residency. Stubbs v. Stubbs 211 So.2d 821 (1968).

5. The best evidence of domicile is actual residence, not just the fact of residence. A person can explain staying at another place and rebut the presumption of residence. In determining residence, little weight is merited for statements of intent that are in conflict with the facts. Cheek v. Fortune, 341 F.Supp 729 (N.D.Miss., 1972).

6. The essential elements of domicile are residence and the purpose to make the residence a home. Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398, 83 L.Ed. 817 (1939).

7. The intention to make a home must be unqualified and not conditioned on the occurrence of a future event. Jones v. State, 207 Miss. 208, 42 So.2d 123 (1949).

Attorney General Opinions on Residency
1. The appropriate election commission is responsible for making factual determinations on questions of residency. The commission should decide residency on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with guidelines (listed within the opinion) established by the courts. (Conaway et.al., 9-20-89)

2. When a person files for homestead exemption, his or her application establishes residency in that county conclusively and indefinitely for electoral purposes. A person who has filed for homestead exemption in one county may establish residence and become a candidate for public office in another county. Determination of residency is a question of fact to be made by the election commissioners. (Gamble, 9-13-95)

3. Once residency is established, it continues until the [candidate] moves elsewhere with the intent to remain at the new residence and abandons the old domicile with no intent to return. However, the individual’s expressed intent must be viewed in light of the actual situation. In determining residency, statements of intent are entitled to little weight when in conflict with the facts. (Mickens, 6-15-95) and (Shirley, 7-7-95)

4. If the election commission finds that an individual satisfies the residency requirements as a matter of fact, the commission must include that name upon the ballot. The municipal election commission is authorized to inquire into the residency of a candidate prior to the printing of the ballots. If a candidate does not satisfy the residency requirement, then the burden shifts to the candidate to negate the finding of the commission. (Norwood, 9-5-97)

5. Candidates must meet all qualifications for the office they seek at the time the election officials meet to rule on candidate qualifications. (Evans, 4-19-95)

6. A qualified elector seeking public office must meet all eligibility requirements,
subject to no contingencies, at the time such candidate is elected, not by the qualifying
deadline. (Kihyet, 10-31-95)

7. A candidate for the office of county supervisor must be a resident of the district he seeks to serve. (Salmon, 6-17-91) (Candidates for district attorney meet the same qualifications as candidates for county offices.)

8. Residency of a potential candidate for municipal office is a question of fact that must be determined by the appropriate election commission or, in case of a primary, the appropriate party executive committee. (Davies, 2-23-01)

Homestead Exemption 101
The application for homestead exemption must be filed between January 1 and April 1 each year. If granted, it gives taxpayers a break on all ad valorem taxes assessed to the property, limited to the first $7,500 of the assessed value and to $300 in actual exempted taxes. Once filed, the application does not have to be re-filed unless there is a status change, for example death, divorce, a sale of property or an addition of property.

The law states that the application must be complete, true, and correct. Exemptions can be disallowed for many reasons. Here are some reasons, taken from Chapter 1 of the Mississippi Administrative Code:

3. Applicant is separated, does not have custody of minor children and does not live in
the home at the time of separation. 27-33-13 (c) & (d)

7. Applicant is not defined as the head of a family. 27-33-13 and 27-33-19

23. Applicant does not occupy the property as his primary home. 27-33-19 and 27- 33-21

25. Any property and/or dwelling that is occupied under an agreement to buy or under a
conditional sale is not eligible. 27-33-21 (d)

26. Property that is rented or is available for rent is not eligible. 27-33-21 (a) & (g)

39. Valid application is not on file. 27-33-31 (a)

40. Applicant has made a fraudulent application. 27-33-31 (q) and 27-33-41 (c)

42. Applicant and spouse are not actually and legally living together. 27-33-19 (c)

Penalties are outlined in Chapter 8 of the Mississippi Administrative Code:

1. Any person who swears under oath to the truthfulness of an application which is found to
contain a false statement is guilty of perjury.

2. Any person who knowingly makes a false claim for exemption or a false statement on the
application or omits a material fact on the application in order to obtain an exemption is guilty
of a misdemeanor. Anyone who assists another in preparing a false claim for exemption is also guilty of a misdemeanor. If the person is convicted, the punishment includes a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500) or six (6) months imprisonment. If an exemption is obtained under a false claim, the person obtaining such an exemption is liable for double the amount of taxes lost.

3. In addition to the above, anyone who submits a fraudulent application in violation of Section 27-33-31, Mississippi Code Annotated, is guilty of a felony and if convicted could face a fine of not more than $5,000 or a prison term of not more than two years, or both.

Key Court and Attorney General decisions on Homestead Exemption

• A board of supervisors may not allow homestead exemption for a taxpayer who fails to comply with Section 27-33-31 of the Mississippi Code of 1972. (Williams, 7-25-97, citing consistency with Welch, 4-16-94).

• The filing of a homestead exemption conclusively establishes domicile for electoral purposes
in the county of filing, even if certain ties to other counties still exist. In Gadd v. Thompson,
517 So.2d 576, 579 (Miss.1987), the Mississippi Supreme Court said that as a matter of law, if an individual has filed for homestead exemption in a particular county he may not legally be a qualified elector (registered voter) in another county. Therefore, filing for homestead exemption conclusively determines residency for voting purposes. Once a county election commission determines that a person whose name appears on the voter registration records has filed for homestead exemption in another county, it is obligated to remove that name from its records for state and local elections.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, better known as the Motor Voter Law,
became effective in Mississippi on January 1, 1995, and has a specific procedure that must
be followed before a voter can be disqualified from voting in federal elections based on
residence.

Section 97–13–25 of the Mississippi Code, Rev. 1994, provides that any person who knowingly registers to vote when not entitled to be registered, or who registers to vote under a false name or in a district other than the one in which he or she lives shall be imprisoned in the penitentiary for a term not to exceed ten years, if convicted. (Ward, 3-28-95)

• In Gadd v. Thompson, 517 So. 2d 576, 579 (Miss. 1987), the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the filing of homestead exemption conclusively establishes domicile for electoral purposes in the county of filing, regardless of whether ties to other counties still exist. (Also, Ward, 3-28-95) Whether a candidate meets residency requirements is a question of fact to be determined by the municipal election commission. However, the Gadd case clearly states
that where an individual files homestead exemption establishes his domicile for all electoral
purposes, including running for office and voting. (Hood, 6-5-98)

Click on this link for complete information on Homestead Exemptions.

 

Documents used to support the facts in this article.decarlo-hood

Lamar County candidates violate campaign finance laws


In Lamar County, 21 candidates or former candidates for public office have violated Mississippi law by failing to file mandatory campaign financial disclosure reports or by filing them after the deadline. All face financial penalties and/or prosecution if the Ethics Commission enforces state law.

Two candidates for state office on Lamar County’s ballot for the November 5 election failed to file the campaign financial disclosure reports that were due in October. Two additional candidates for state office filed the required reports but did so after the 5 p.m. October 10 deadline, as did a local candidate for Chancery Clerk. The remaining 16 are former candidates for county office who were defeated in the primaries.

However, Lamar County’s ballot includes two candidates for state office who live elsewhere in Mississippi and have not submitted the required financial reports, bringing the total to 23
candidates and former candidates who are in arrears with their campaign financial disclosure reports.  They are:

1. Ken Morgan (R) – candidate for State Representative, District 100 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

2. Brandon Terrion Rue (D) – candidate from Meridian for State Representative, District 102 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

3. Jansen Owen (R) – candidate for State Representative, District 106 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

4. Addie Lee Green (D) – candidate from Bolton for State Treasurer – has not filed a periodic report for October.

5. Melissa Brezeale Love (R) – candidate for Chancery Clerk – has not filed a periodic report for October.

6. Cheree Sanders (R) – candidate for Chancery Clerk – has not filed a periodic report for October.

7. Anna E. Miller (R) – candidate for Coroner – has not filed a periodic report for October.

8. Hunter Andrews (R) – candidate for Surveyor – has not filed a periodic report for October.

9. Jeremy Tynes (R) – candidate for Surveyor – has not filed a periodic report for June, July 10, July 30 or October.

10. Larry Bracey (R) – candidate for Supervisor, District 3 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

11. Robert Hedgepeth (R) – candidate for Supervisor, District 3 – has not filed a periodic report for July 30 or for October.

12. Joshua Kent Grantman (R) – candidate for Supervisor, District 4 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

13. Brian McPhail (R) – candidate for Supervisor, District 4 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

14. Eddie Thaggard (R) – candidate for Supervisor, District 4 – has not filed a periodic report for July or October.

15. Jon Mark Herrington (R) – candidate for Supervisor, District 5 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

16. Dearl Head (R) – candidate for Constable, District 1- has not filed a periodic report for October.

17. Johnny Whitehead (R) – candidate for Constable, District 2 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

18. Jimmy R. Daughdrill, Sr. (R) – candidate for Constable, District 3 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

19. Abner Keith (R) – candidate for Constable, District 3 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

20. Lyn Thompson (R) – candidate for Constable, District 3 – has not filed a periodic report for July or October.

Also:

21. Phillip D. Carlisle (R) – candidate for Chancery Clerk – filed a periodic report for October but not by the 5 p.m., October 10, 2019, deadline.

22. Kent McCarty (R) – candidate for State Representative, District 101 – filed a periodic report for October but not by the 5 p.m., October 10, 2019, deadline.

23. John A. Polk (R) – candidate for State Senator, District 44 – filed a periodic report for October but not by the 5 p.m., October 10, 2019, deadline.

THE STATE’S REQUIREMENTS

All office holders and candidates were required to file an annual campaign finance report by January 31, 2019, for the 2018 calendar year, as well as periodic follow-up reports throughout the year according to a schedule provided by the Secretary of State.

The only exceptions are office holders and candidates who have filed termination reports. A politician or candidate who files a termination report states that he or she will no longer accept contributions or spend funds and that his or her campaign has no debt or obligations.

A candidate who withdraws, is disqualified, or loses the race still must submit campaign finance reports until a termination report is filed.

You’ll find campaign finance laws set forth in the Mississippi State Code Ann., beginning at Section 23-15-801. The Secretary of State’s Office has made it easy for politicians to comply and the public to understand, though, by publishing a handbook online on Mississippi campaign finance law. It’s called the Guide to Campaign Finance in Mississippi: For Candidates and Political Committees and is posted online at the Secretary of State’s website.

Under our current campaign finance laws, the Secretary of State is responsible for providing the necessary forms, for promoting rules and regulations, for collecting reports and statements and for making them available for public inspection. (Mississippi State Code Ann., Section 23-15- 815)

The Secretary of State is required by law to compile a list of all candidates for the Legislature and other statewide office who do not file campaign finance reports on time, and to provide that list to the state Ethics Commission, which in turn can bring a mandamus or take other disciplinary action. The Secretary of State also is required to distribute the list to members of the Mississippi Press Association. (Mississippi State Code Ann., Section 23-15-817)

Enforcement is left to the Ethics Commission.

PENALTIES

State law says that once a campaign finance report is ten days late, the Ethics Commission shall assess the violator a penalty of $50 for each day or part of a day until the report is submitted.
There’s a maximum of 10 days, so delinquency can cost as much as $500 per report.

Legally, “shall” means there is no wiggle room. However, state law also provides the Ethics Commission discretion to waive all or part of the fine if it determines the existence of “unforeseeable mitigating circumstances.” The health of the candidate would be an acceptable excuse; not having received a notice of failure to file the report from the Secretary of State is not an acceptable excuse. Politicians who file the report and pay the fine within 10 days of receiving notice from the Secretary of State are considered in compliance with the law, but paying the fine without filing the report? Not so much. (Mississippi Code Ann. Section 23-15-813)

This same section of law outlines the procedure for non-payment of fines that have not been waived. In that case, the candidate or politician is scheduled for an administrative hearing; there is an appeals process for the hearing. Ultimately, the Attorney General may opt to prosecute to recover the assessed penalties.

SANCTIONS (OR, WHAT’S IN A NAME?)

Beyond the penalties, violators of campaign finance laws can incur sanctions, which are, in a word, more penalties. Here they are:

1. Willful violators shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, if convicted, shall incur a fine of up to $3,000.00 or prison of six months, or both.

2. The violator may be compelled to file the necessary report by a mandamus brought by the state Ethics Commission.

3. A candidate who has not filed his or her required campaign finance reports shall not be certified as nominated for election or as elected to office until he or she files all reports due as of the date of certification.

4. A candidate who has not filed his or her required campaign finance reports shall not receive any salary or other remuneration until he or she files the reports due as of the date the salary is to be paid.

5. These sanctions do not apply if the candidate fails to file his or her campaign finance report on time but files a complete report later. (Mississippi Code Section 23-15-811)

The Hattiesburg Patriot has submitted a request to the Ethics Commission for information as to whether and/or how campaign finance laws are enforced at the local level.

Jim Hood’s Child Desertion Unit indicted ex-wife of Oxycontin rep while child was living with her for nine months.

Jim Hood’s job as Mississippi’s Attorney General comes with enormous responsibility and equally enormous power.  However, he misused that power and almost ruined a mother and her minor child’s life by allowing his Child Desertion Unit to pursue the indictment and prosecution of the mother, who was the sole custodial parent of her child and received no child support from the father at the time of the indictment.  Jim Hood’s office did so without ever conducting an adequate investigation.

Instead, Hood relied on an intake form filed with the Child Desertion Unit by the woman’s ex-husband, Michael Warren, who was then an Oxycontin sales representative.

At the time of Ms. Warren’s indictment, Jim Hood’s office was pursuing litigation in a highly publicized case against Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers. The 247-page complaint charged the companies with violating the state Medicaid Fraud Control Act and its Consumer Protection Act, and also said their sales representatives committed fraud and negligent misrepresentation by understating Oxycontin’s addictive properties. The complaint also included charges of unjust enrichment and public nuisance.

It is unclear if Hood’s office consulted Mr. Warren regarding the litigation or planned to use him as a witness in the case. However, the timing of certain events in Ms. Warren’s case and  the opioid litigation case could not be much closer:

  • Warren submitted his intake form December 10, 2015.
  • Attorney General Hood filed the state’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Warren’s employer, and other opioid manufacturers in Hinds County Chancery Court December 15, 2015.
  • In May 2017, a three-judge panel granted the drug makers additional time to prepare an appeal of a previous decision rejecting their request to change the venue from Hinds County to Rankin County.
  • Ms. Warren’s indictment was returned by the grand jury on June 19th, 2017.
  • A week earlier, on June 12, 2017, Jim Hood was quoted in a Clarion Ledger article about the opioid litigation; the article stated that the Mississippi Supreme Court was expected to hear arguments from the drug makers to dismiss the case or move it to Rankin County.

Hood was quoted by the Clarion Ledger as having written:

“FOr over two decades, these pharmaceutical companies have made billions of dollars in profits by misrepresenting to tens of millions of doctors and patients the significant dangers of prescription opioids – marketing the drug as rarely addictive and a safe substitute for non addictive pain medications, such as ibuprofEn or naproxen.”

In pursuing the indictment of Ms. Warren, the Child Desertion Unit of Jim Hood’s office certainly seems to have operated in violation of its own rules as printed in its literature, which states:l

“The CHILD dESERTION uNIT IS DEDICATED TO THE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF DELINQUENT child support cases, addressing the chronic and persistent issue of parents not providing emotional and monetary support for their children.”

The Child Desertion Unit pursued the indictment of Mrs. Warren in May 2016 for $11,315.98 in back child support under the false representation to the Grand Jury that Ms. Warren had abandoned her child . However, the unit’s literature cites its own protocol that, before proceeding with legal action, certain criteria must be met.  For example, the unit must establish that the

Non-CustoDial PArent has the Ability to pay but simply refuses.

Also, the unit must be certain that the non-custodial parent’s

employment IS verified.

The Child Desertion Unit’s normal rules and procedures were not adequately followed, however.

In July and August of 2016, Ms. Warren completed a 35-day in-patient treatment program in Florida for opioid addiction, which, she told HPNM, began with her first prescription for Oxycontin. She was working the out-patient program in Louisiana and had found a job by December 2016 when her ex-husband, Michael Warren, asked her to take custody of their minor child. Ms. Warren gave up her new job and moved back to Hattiesburg to take custody of her minor child, thus allowing her daughter to continue attending her regular school. During that time, Michael Warren ceased tuition payments for the child’s private education, leaving Ms. Warren to scramble for resources to keep the child in the school she had always attended.

Nine months later, Ms. Warren was indicted by Jim Hood’s Child Desertion Unit at the prior request and urging of Michael Warren.  At the time of the indictment, Ms. Warren was the sole custodial parent  for her child.  She was not gainfully employed after she took custody of her minor child in early December, 2016.

Based on the above-mentioned facts, it is clear that Ms. Warren did not meet the Child Desertion Unit’s criteria. By recklessly abandoning due diligence, the Office of the Attorney General not only violated its own rules, but also caused immeasurable harm to the custodial mother and her child.  Had the unit investigators made a single phone call, either to Michael Warren or his ex-wife, performed a welfare check of the child, or bothered to call Michael Warren as a witness before the grand jury, this travesty of justice never would have taken place. Instead, Jim Hood’s office relied on inaccurate information that was 17 months old and proceeded with reckless abandon to gain an indictment. In doing so, it violated its own rules and requirements.

Mr. Hood, in his quest to seek maximum publicity for the indictment, issued a press release regarding Ms. Warren’s arrest, which occurred during Childhood Support Awareness Month. Ms. Warren’s mugshot was sent with Jim Hood’s press release; both were distributed to and subsequently published in numerous major media outlets across the southeast, including the front page of the Clarion Ledger, The Hattiesburg American, the Mississippi section of the Washington Post, WDAM news, WLOX, and others. This massive exposure of Ms. Warren’s arrest compounded her pain and suffering and that of her child. It brought enormous embarrassment to both and made it nearly impossible for Ms. Warren to secure and maintain meaningful, lasting employment to support herself and her daughter. Ms. Warren was shattered emotionally and devastated financially.  At the time, she had no financial means to fight against the full weight and power of the Mississippi Attorney General’s reckless and irresponsible indictment.

Hattiesburg Patriot News Media (HPNM) sought a comment from the Mississippi Department of Human Services, which normally handles back child support prosecutions,but only when they exceed $20,000. The department told HPNM,

“MDHS did not conduct a criminal INVESTIGATION against Ms. Warren. Our records INDICATE that the AG’s Child Desertion Unit filed criminal actions against Ms. Warren at the request of her ex-husband.”

Desperate, depressed and broken, Ms. Warren was saved by her friends, who helped secure counsel to represent her in Forrest County Chancery Court to secure child support from her ex-husband and to remedy the careless and reckless actions of Jim Hood’s office. Court documents obtained by Hattiesburg Patriot News Media reveal that Warren not only was employed as a sales representative for Purdue Pharmaceuticals but also owns JMW Enterprises, which offers portable x-rays for asbestos victims. In 2017, during Ms. Warren’s actions against her ex-husband, Mr. Warren’s income was declared in court filings as $388,000 per year.

On his intake form with the Attorney General’s Child Desertion Unit, Warren explained the purported burden he and his fiancee (now wife), Kerrie Schwabe Bermond Warren, were under when he stated that he,

“Borrowed monies from fiance”

and he suffered

“emotional stress on me as a male.”

Warren went on to say

“I have seen $800 – $1000 owed child support resulted in incarceration – this is frustrating and provides stress on my family.”

Warren succeeded initially in his apparent mission to have his ex-wife jailed, but justice was found in a Forrest County Court 14 months later.  In February 2018, Ms. Warren sued her ex-husband in Chancery Court for child support, which she had not received since she took custody of their child in early December of 2016.

After hearing the facts of the case, Judge Johnny Williams ordered Michael Warren to pay $1,800.00 per month in support, but it didn’t end there. In the order Judge Williams stipulated that Warren was to pay $1,800 per month in back child support for the 14 months (since December 2016) that his ex-wife had custody of their child. That retroactive support wiped out Ms. Warren’s $11,315.80 in back support and created back child support in the amount of $13,984.02 owed by Warren, which he agreed to pay at $200.00 per month (transcripts below article). With the back support payments, and the current ordered support, this brought the monthly total Warren owed his ex-wife to $2,000.00.

It doesn’t end there. Warren has failed to meet his child support obligations since that February 12th, 2018 order, and is now just over $28,000 in arrears in child support .  A motion for contempt was filed by Ms. Warren’s attorney, and a hearing for failure to pay child support is scheduled for 9 a.m. on October 29th, 2019 at the Chancery Courthouse in Columbia.  Hattiesburg Patriot News Media will be there to provide a follow-up report.

Hattiesburg Patriot News Media requested a comment from Jim Hood’s office. The comment is below and contains two false statements (highlighted in blue). Hood’s comment reads,

“Our Child Desertion Unit received an intake form from John Michael Warren in December 2015 along with supporting documents. Our investigation of this matter showed that (first name redacted by HPNM) Warren was delinquent in child support by $11,315.98 for approximately eight years. This case was presented to a Lamar County Grand Jury at the May 2017 term resulting in her indictment on June 19, 2017, for one felony count of non-support of a child. At the time of (FIRST NAME REDACTED BY HPNM) Warren’s indictment, the child was living with her. However, an order filed in the Forrest County Chancery Court in February 2018, stated neither party called the change in residence of the minor to the Court’s attention, nor to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office, and no change in the child’s living arrangements or child support was ordered. Even after the change in custody, (FIRST NAME REDACTED BY HPNM) Warren was still delinquent on her child support. Following the order filed in February 2018, our office petitioned the court which granted such remand on March 9, 2018.”

In fact, the ORDER (embedded below) contradicts the statement from Jim Hood’s office in Paragraph I. The Order reads,

“Husband Shall Pay to wife for the fourteen months beginning December, 2016, the sum of $1,800 per month and that husband shall be given credit for the $11,315.98 that wife is in arrears, leaving husband in debt to wife in the amount of $13,984.02. The sum of $13,984.02. shall be repaid by husband to wife at the rate of $200.00 per month beginning February 1, 2018, and the COurt specifically adjudicates that wife does not owe any back child support to husband.

After the February 12th, 2018 order, Ms. Warren’s attorney asked Jim Hood’s office to drop the charges. Hood’s office remanded the case to files and stated,

“the state is unable at this time to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime of non support of the child”

Ms. Warren’s arrest remains on her record. She lacks the financial means to have the arrest expunged, since she has not received the court-ordered support from her ex-husband, Michael Warren, and all of her hourly wages go to supporting herself and her daughter.

(To our readers, feel welcome to post a link to this story to Jim Hood’s campaign page in the comments. You can also call Jim Hood at the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General to demand a public apology to Ms. Warren and her child. That number is 601-359-3680) Please share this post on Facebook.

All documents used for this article are below. Jim Hood was questioned about this matter  at the post-debate press gathering at USM Hood. Mr. Hood cut off the questions and attempted to downgrade the reporter as just a “blogger.”
hood-docs

10 Forrest County candidates violated campaign finance reporting requirements

FORREST COUNTY BALLOT WILL INCLUDE 10 VIOLATORS OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS

Ten candidates on the ballot in Forrest County’s November 5 election have failed to file mandatory campaign financial disclosure reports and face financial penalties and/or prosecution if the Ethics Commission enforces state law. Two of the ten are running for state office.

Three other candidates or former candidates also are in violation. One candidate for state office filed the required report after the 5 p.m. October 10 deadline., and two candidates who ran for state office but were defeated in the August primaries have not filed October financial reports.

Candidates in arrears with their campaign financial disclosure reports are:
1. David Hogan (R) – candidate running unopposed for Supervisor, District 1 –
has not filed periodic reports for June, July or October.

2. Douglas “Butch” Benedict, Jr. (R) – candidate for Coroner – has not filed any of the  periodic reports for June, July or October.

3. Addie Lee Green (D) – candidate for State Treasurer from Bolton, MS – has not filed a periodic report for October.

4. Brandon Terrion Rue (D) – candidate for State Representative, District 102 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

5. Robert Davis (D) – candidate for Justice Court Judge, District 4 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

6. Jerry Alford (I) – candidate for Constable, District 3 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

7. Mike Harris (R) – candidate for Constable, District 1- has not filed any of the mandatory campaign financial disclosure reports.

8. Jennifer Brown-Travis (D) – candidate for Constable, District 3 – has not filed any of the mandatory campaign financial disclosure reports.

9. Tommy Joe (Cookie) Cook (D) – candidate for Constable, District 4 – has not filed any of the mandatory campaign financial disclosure reports.

10. Alfreda R. Gray (D) – candidate for Coroner – has not filed any of the mandatory campaign financial disclosure reports.

Also:

11. Larry Byrd (R) – candidate for State Representative, District 104 from Petal – did file a periodic report for October but not by the 5 p.m., October 10, 2019, deadline.

12. Deborah Denard Delgado (D) – candidate for State Senator, District 34 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

13. Ricardo Mussiett (R) – candidate for State Representative, District 87 – has not filed a periodic report for October.

THE STATE’S REQUIREMENTS

All office holders and candidates were required to file an annual campaign finance report by January 31, 2019, for the 2018 calendar year, as well as periodic follow-up reports throughout the year according to a schedule provided by the Secretary of State.

The only exceptions are office holders and candidates who have filed termination reports. A politician or candidate who files a termination report states that he or she will no longer accept contributions or spend funds and that his or her campaign has no debt or obligations.

A candidate who withdraws, is disqualified, or loses the race still must submit campaign finance reports unless a termination report has been filed.

You’ll find campaign finance laws set forth in the Mississippi State Code Ann., beginning at Section 23-15-801. The Secretary of State’s Office has made it easy for politicians to comply and the public to understand, though, by publishing a handbook on Mississippi campaign finance law. It’s called the Guide to Campaign Finance in Mississippi: For Candidates and Political Committees and is posted online at the Secretary of State’s website.

Under our current campaign finance laws, the Secretary of State is responsible for providing the necessary forms, for promoting rules and regulations, for collecting reports and statements and for making them available for public inspection. (Mississippi State Code Ann., Section 23-15-815)

The Secretary of State is required by law to compile a list of all candidates for the Legislature and other statewide office who do not file campaign finance reports on time, and to provide that list to the state Ethics Commission, which in turn can bring a mandamus or take other disciplinary action. The Secretary of State also is required to distribute the list to members of the Mississippi Press Association. (Mississippi State Code Ann., Section 23-15-817)

Enforcement is left to the Ethics Commission.

PENALTIES

State law says that once a campaign finance report is ten days late, the Ethics Commission shall assess the violator a penalty of $50 for each day or part of a day until the report is submitted. There’s a maximum of 10 days, so delinquency can cost as much as $500 per report.

Legally, “shall” means there is no wiggle room. However, state law also provides the Ethics Commission discretion to waive all or part of the fine if it determines the existence of “unforeseeable mitigating circumstances.” The health of the candidate would be an acceptable excuse; not having received a notice of failure to file the report from the Secretary of State is not an acceptable excuse. Politicians who file the report and pay the fine within 10 days of receiving notice from the Secretary of State are considered in compliance with the law, but paying the fine without filing the report? Not so much. (Mississippi Code Ann. Section 23-15-813)

This same section of law outlines the procedure for non-payment of fines that have not been waived. In that case, the candidate or politician is scheduled for an administrative hearing; there is an appeals process for the hearing. Ultimately, the Attorney General may opt to prosecute to recover the assessed penalties.

SANCTIONS (OR, WHAT’S IN A NAME?)

Beyond the penalties, violators of campaign finance laws can incur sanctions, which are, in a word, more penalties. Here they are:

1. Willful violators shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, if convicted, shall incur a fine of up to $3,000.00 or prison of six months, or both.
2. The violator may be compelled to file the necessary report by a mandamus brought by the state Ethics Commission.
3. A candidate who has not filed his or her required campaign finance reports shall not be certified as nominated for election or as elected to office until he or she files all reports due as of the date of certification.
4. A candidate who has not filed his or her required campaign finance reports shall not receive any salary or other remuneration until he or she files the reports due as of the date the salary is to be paid.
5. These sanctions do not apply if the candidate fails to file his or her campaign finance report on time but files a complete report later. (Mississippi Code Section 23-15-811)

The Hattiesburg Patriot has submitted a request to the Ethics Commission for information as to whether and/or how campaign finance laws are enforced at the local level.

Four Petal Alderman Fail to File Mandatory Financial Disclosure Form

Four of Petal’s seven-member Board of Aldermen have broken Mississippi ethics law by failing to file the mandatory Statement of Economic Interest (SEI). Three of the four board members have broken the law repeatedly.

According to the Ethics Commission website, Petal Alderman-at-Large William King last filed an SEI for 2016, and Ward 2 Alderman Steve Stringer’s last filing was for 2015. Ward 3 Alderman Clint Moore apparently never has filed the mandatory report in the seven years he has held office. Ml Ward 6 Alderman Craig Bullock filed the SEI most recently in 2017; the Ethics Commission website shows no SEI for Bullock for 2018 or for 2012.

Aldermen are among elected officials and public servants required by law to file the SEI with the Ethics Commission by May 1 every year. (Candidates must file within 15 days of the qualifying deadline. A person appointed to office must file within 30 days of the appointment.)
The electronic report requires each respondent to disclose his or her income sources, as well as those of his or her spouse and anyone over the age of 21 who lives in the same house. The idea is to highlight potential conflicts of interest for the public, so the SEI does not ask for income amounts.

If you were to dismiss this form as just more government paperwork, you’d be making a huge mistake.  It’s critical to keeping you and others informed about the business interests of your government representatives. In fact, a situation that came to light in Petal earlier this year illustrates perfectly why the SEI is mandatory: the Hattiesburg Patriot learned in August that Alderman Bullock has been involved in an apparent conflict of interest created when his company, A1 Graphics, received $7,700 in 2018-19 from the Petal Sports Association (PSA), a joint venture with the City of Petal.  A1 Graphics provided umpire shirts, tournament t shirts, coaches’ shirts and uniforms, and tournament signs, and may have sold uniforms and/or team gear to PSA teams directly. Click here to read more.

You can find the fulll law in the Mississippi State Code of 1972 beginning at 25-4-25,  but to summarize:

Anyone who fails to file the SEI within one year of the deadline or who knowingly fails to disclose required information is guilty of a crime and can be fined as much as $10,000. The Ethics Commission may grant permission for supplemental filings when corrections are needed.

Specifically, those who must file the Statement of Economic Intent are:
1. All elected officials (except federal) whether it be statewide, district, county, municipal or any other political subdivision (except members of boards of levee commissioners and election commissioners)
2. All school board members, whether elected or appointed
3. Candidates for elected office
4. Persons appointed to fill a vacancy in an elected office
5. Executive directors or heads of state agencies, by whatever name they are designated, who are paid in part or in whole, directly or indirectly, from funds appropriated or authorized to be expended by the Legislature
6. Presidents and trustees of all state-supported colleges, universities and junior colleges
7. Members of any state board, commission or agency, including the Mississippi Ethics Commission, charged with the administration or expenditure of public funds (except advisory boards or commissions)
8. Executive directors or board members of certain economic development entities (EDDs, REDAs, CDCs, Industrial Council) and airport authorities

The SEI must include the following information for the previous calendar year:
(a) The full name and mailing address of the filer;
(b) The filer’s title, position and offices in government;
(c) All other occupations of the filer, the filer’s spouse or any person over the
age of 21 who lived in the filer’s household during the entire preceding
calendar year;
(d) The names and addresses of all businesses in which the filer, the filer’s
spouse or any person over the age of 21 who lived in the
filer’s household during the entire preceding calendar year held a
position, and the name of the position, if the person:
(i) Receives more than $2,500.00 a year in income from the business;
(ii) Owns ten percent or more of the fair market value in the business;
(iii) Owns an ownership interest in the business, the fair market value
of which exceeds $5,000.00; or
(iv) Is an employee, director or officer of the business;
(e) The identity of the person represented and the nature of the business involved in any representation or intervention for compensation for any person or business before any authority of state or local government, excluding the courts, on any matter other than uncontested or routine matters. This applies only to:
(1) an elected official
(2) an executive director or head of a state agency or
(3) a president or trustee of a state-supported college, university or
community or junior college, including members of the State
Board for Community and Junior Colleges and the State Board
of Institutions of Higher Learning.
(f) All public bodies, whether federal, state or local government, from which
the filer, the filer’s spouse or any person over the age of 21 who lived in
the filer’s household during the entire preceding calendar year received
compensation in excess of $1,000.00 during the preceding calendar year,
whether the compensation was paid directly or indirectly through another
person or business.

Petal Alderman Craig Bullock may have ethical fouls in business dealings with the Petal Sports Association

When it comes to Petal sports, alderman Craig Bullock may be batting cleanup: his company, A1 Graphics, is said to have provided uniforms for the Petal Sports Association (PSA), a joint venture with the City of Petal.  PSA financial reports for the period beginning March 1, 2018, and ending June 1, 2019, show seven payments from PSA totaling almost $7,700 to A1 Graphics for umpire shirts, tournament t shirts, coaches’ shirts and uniforms, and tournament signs.  These figures would not include any uniforms or team gear PSA teams may have purchased directly from A1 Graphics.

The PSA website states that in 2017-18, there were 1,526 players in all sports the organization offered; the numbers increased by 193 in 2018-19 for a total of 1,719 players.  During a recent budget discussion, current PSA President Derek Hall provided statistics for the period since the Petal-PSA agreement came into play:

  • 3,010 regular players
  • 313 regular season teams
  • 1842 regular season games
  • 46 All Star or select teams
  • 1,256 volunteers, coaches and commissioners
  • 32 tournaments bringing in players for hundreds of games

Mississippi ethics laws prohibit public servants from engaging in conflicts of interest, with some exceptions. This case involves a complicated set of circumstances, so the only true answer will be found in an opinion from the Mississippi Ethics Commission.  Perhaps Mayor Marx will request one.

Here’s the pertinent law from Miss. Code Ann.  § 25-4-01(3):

(1)  No public servant shall use his official position to obtain, or attempt to obtain, pecuniary benefit for himself other than that compensation provided for by law, or to obtain, or attempt to obtain, pecuniary benefit for any relative or any business with which he is associated.

(2) No public servant shall be interested, directly or indirectly, during the term for which he shall have been chosen, or within one (1) year after the expiration of such term, in any contract with the state, or any district, county, city or town thereof, authorized by any law passed or order made by any board of which he may be or may have been a member.

The 2017 agreement describes the transaction between PSA and the City of Petal as a joint venture. It was approved by the Board of Alderman December 5, 2017, with the motion made by Alderman Amacker and seconded by Alderman Stringer. Aldermen Bullock, Moore and Stringer voted aye, and Aldermen Amacker and Ducker voted nay.

PSA is a nonprofit, but a nonprofit organization that receives public funds is considered a business under Mississippi law. Does the PSA-Petal agreement to form a joint venture change the playing field?  Has Alderman Bullock benefited financially, directly or indirectly, from a local government contract that he helped to authorize?  Beyond that, would Bullock be involved in a conflict of interest if he were to benefit financially from Forrest County’s $100,000 contribution to PSA? According to Mayor Marx, that money is said to be earmarked for uniforms and equipment for children registered in PSA sports programs.

Here’s more from the state’s conflict of interest law:

(3) No public servant shall:

(a) Be a contractor, subcontractor or vendor with the governmental entity of which he is a member, officer, employee or agent, other than in his contract of employment, or have a material financial interest in any business which is a contractor, subcontractor or vendor with the governmental entity of which he is a member, officer, employee or agent.

(d) Perform any service for any compensation during his term of office or       employment by which he attempts to influence a decision of the authority of the governmental entity of which he is a member.

(e) Perform any service for any compensation for any person or business after termination of his office or employment in relation to any case, decision, proceeding or application with respect to which he was directly concerned or in which he personally participated during the period of his service or      employment.

 There are exceptions to the law.

A public servant may be a contractor or vendor with government, as long as it’s not the governmental entity with which he or she is associated. However, the public servant must have submitted the lowest of at least three legitimate competitive bids, or the goods or services in question must be reasonably available from two or fewer businesses, and the transactions must comply with the state’s public purchase laws.

HPNM has not determined whether PSA conducted competitive bids for uniforms. However, PSA has purchased from Play It Again Sports and Magnolia Graphics, and the City of Petal has purchased sports supplies from numerous other sources, so the second exception – that the goods or services must be reasonably available from two or fewer businesses – can be eliminated.

A 2016 Ethics Commission opinion clarifies a situation similar to Bullock’s. In Opinion No. 16-020-E, dated April 1, 2016, Ethics Commissioner Tom Hood responded to a question as to whether a city employee can work also for a nonprofit that provides bookkeeping services to several city departments. In that case, the employee could do so because he or she did not have a material financial interest in the business. Miss. Code Ann. § 25-4-105(3)(a)

The ethics commission opinion states:

Nonetheless, the city employee is prohibited from using his or her official position with the city to obtain, or attempt to obtain, a pecuniary benefit for the non-profit agency. As set forth in Section 25-4-105(1), a public servant cannot use his or her position in government to obtain, or attempt to obtain, any pecuniary benefit for himself or herself or a ‘business with which he [or she] is associated.’ The term ‘business with which he [ or she] is associated’ includes… ‘any business from which [the public servant or the public servant’s] relative derives more than Two Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($2 ,500.00) in annual income.’

Hood noted that a nonprofit organization that receives public funds is considered a business with which the city employee is associated. Miss. Code Ann. 25-4-103c   To avoid violating state ethics law, Hood warned, the employee must recuse himself or herself completely from any matter that comes before the city that could bring monetary benefit to the nonprofit.

“A total and complete recusal requires that the city employee not only avoid debating, discussing or taking action concerning the matter during official meetings or deliberations, but also avoid discussing the matter with any other city employees,” he wrote.  “This restriction includes casual comments, as well as detailed discussions, made in person, by telephone or by any other means.”

The Ethics Commissioner said that official minutes should state the city employee left the room before the matter came up for discussion and did not return until after the discussion and any vote had ended. He also said the city employee cannot use city equipment and resources to support or further any private business interest.

Craig Bullock voted in support of the Petal-PSA agreement, participated in budget discussions and posted in social media about the PSA budget decisions.  Perhaps he failed to recuse himself because he did not believe his business ties with PSA represented a conflict of interest. Perhaps the Ethics Commission, if asked for an opinion, would rule that no conflict of interest exists.  Or, perhaps Bullock – knowingly or not –violated state law major league.

A1 Graphics traditionally has identified as a signs and banner service but teamed with t shirt purveyor Southern Cotton in September 2017, right about the same time the City of Petal began approving hires for its new Athletic Department.

Earlier this year Bullock facilitated an in-kind donation to David Bassett’s campaign through his company, A1 Graphics.  The contribution was reported as “anonymous” and hid the true donor to Bassett’s campaign.

State campaign finance laws require that contributions exceeding $200 be reported as itemized receipts. Reports of itemized receipts must provide the type of contributor, the contributor’s name and address, the amount the contributor donated for the reporting period and for the year-to-date, and the date of the contribution. Miss. Code Ann. § 23-17-53

 

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