Sheriff’s Department corruption continues as Sheriff McGee and son-in-law, Investigator Nick Calico, violate Mississippi Constitution and State ethics laws.

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Federal District Judge Keith Starrett

The Forrest County Sheriff’s Department is no stranger to charges of corruption, and not just by those who have run afoul of the law or found themselves in the Department’s crosshairs.  Earlier this year, when sentencing Charles Bolton, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett weighed in by stating on the record that there has been a

“culture of corruption in the Forrest County Jail,”

which is run by the Forrest County Sheriff's Department and called the “Billy McGee Law Enforcement Complex.”  Judge Starrett went on to say,

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“There are good people in Forrest County that deserve honest government.  They deserve people to be straight up with the resources of the county….”[1]

Meegan McGee Calico, Billy McGee's daughter, married Forrest County Investigator and Public Information Officer Nick Calico in November 2016.
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Now comes the news that the Department’s employment of Nick Calico, Sheriff Billy McGee’s son-in-law, is apparently so improper that it is expressly prohibited by both the Mississippi Constitution and the state’s “conflict of interest” laws.  Those laws are designed to instill public confidence in the integrity of government, and to prevent elected officials from using their offices to unlawfully benefit themselves or their relatives.  When a public official breaks those laws, he violates the “public trust,” and the punishment for doing so is severe.

  1. The Mississippi Ethics in Government Act. 

The Mississippi Ethics in Government Act[2] (commonly called the “conflict of interest laws”) strictly prohibits any “public servant” from “us[ing] his official position to obtain, or attempt to obtain, pecuniary benefit for … any relative or any business with which he is associated.”[3]  Under the Act, Nick Calico is a “relative” and his salary is a “pecuniary benefit.”[4]  As the Mississippi Ethics Commission has unequivocally stated,

“[W]hen an employee works under the direct supervision of his or her relative, a violation of Section 25-4-105(1) is virtually inevitable.”[5]

Why?  Because “[t]he sheriff may be obligated to approve time sheets, pay adjustments or reimbursement for his [relative], in addition to periodically reviewing his job performance.  The sheriff may be responsible for approving his [relative’s] work schedules and could possibly show preference to his [relative] in these day-to-day actions required by his position.  Any of those actions would result in a violation of Section 25-4-105(1).  Typically, a public servant can avoid violating Section 25-4-105(1) by recusing himself or herself from the matter in issue.  However, recusal under these facts is impractical if not impossible in light of the sheriff’s daily supervisory responsibilities over his employees.[6]

   2. The Mississippi Constitution.    

Article IV, Section 109 of the Mississippi Constitution states that

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“[n]o public officer … shall be interested, directly or indirectly, 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, during the term for which he shall have been chosen, or within one year after the expiration of such term.”

In simplified terms, Sheriff McGee has a personal interest in his daughter's well being; so her husband's contract with the county is also a constitutional violation.

To constitute a violation of Section 109, the “contract” doesn’t have to be a formal written agreement, but is defined as “[a]ny agreement to which the government is a party; or [a]ny agreement on behalf of the government which involves the payment of public funds.”[7]  The “government” includes Forrest County, and Billy McGee is a “public servant.”[8]

  1. Possible Punishment.

Any “contract” made in violation of the Ethics in Government Act  may be declared null and void by a court of competent jurisdiction,[9] and the offending public servant (such as McGee) is additionally subject to: (a) civil fines up to $10,000; (b) censure or removal from of elected public official from office, and/or for unelected public official (such as Calico), censure, removal from office, suspension, reduction of pay or demotion by a circuit court of competent jurisdiction;[10] and (c) by separate civil action by the Attorney General or any governmental entity, damages, forfeiture of any pecuniary interest received by the violator, and in the discretion of the court, court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.[11]  

The Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion in Hinds Community College Dist. v. Muse, 725 So. 2d 207 (Miss. 1998), indicates just how severely violations of the Ethics in Government Act are punished.  There, the wife of the president of Hinds County Community College was employed as a teacher for 13 years, during which time she was paid a total of $311,709.  The Attorney General charged the president of violating Section 25-4-105, and sought disgorgement of the entire amount his wife had been paid.

The Muses claimed that they had acted in good faith, and that since Mrs. Muse had provided quality services for the salary she had received, the State had suffered no damages.  The Supreme Court rejected the Muses’ arguments, and held that good faith, long practice, and value received are not defenses to violations of the Ethics in Government Act.  Rather, the State did not have to show monetary damages to prevail under the Act.  The injury is the damage that self-dealing does to the public trust, and this injury occurs even where the government has received full value for any money spent.

“The legislative directive focuses on the wrongful gain to the violative public servant as a measure of damages to the public trust. The injury is the loss of public trust; the damages are the benefits wrongfully gained.”[12]

The Muse opinion tells us that it is simply irrelevant in this case whether Forrest County suffered financial loss from the employment of Calico, or whether the services he has provided benefited Forrest County.  Neither good faith, long practice, or value received are defenses to violations of the Ethics in Government Act. Sheriff McGee's son in law, Nick Calico, just like in the Muse case, will have to repay all of his compensation since the day he married Sheriff McGee's daughter. Furthermore,  either he and/or Sheriff McGee will have to resign.

  1. Procedure.    

The Ethics in Government Act allows any citizen to file a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission.[13]  If probable cause exists “for [the] belief that a violation of law has occurred,” the Commission must refer the complaint and any evidence obtained during its investigation to the Mississippi Attorney General and the district attorney having jurisdiction.[14]  The Commission must also submit “a recommendation that [the alleged violation] be considered for presentation to the grand jury, as well as any further recommendations for seeking civil remedies.”[15]  The Commission, Attorney General, or any governmental entity that has been harmed may file a complaint in the circuit court of the county in which the violation occurred.[16]

  1. Mississippi’s “Nepotism Statute.”

At first glance, it might appear that Calico’s employment also violates Mississippi’s “nepotism statute,” which makes it unlawful for an elected official in charge of a department to employ close relatives within that department.[17]  But unless Calico has received a raise or promotion since November 2016 when he became McGee’s son-in-law, McGee may get a pass there, because the statute contains a “grandfather clause” which arguably exempts Calico.[18]  However, the Ethics in Government Act contains no such exception,[19] and the nepotism statute allows some situations that are strictly prohibited by the Act.  Therefore, a public official can still be punished under the Act even if he is found not to have violated the nepotism statute.[20] 

   6. Conclusion

Conflicts of interest by elected officials are so repugnant to our democratic system of government that the legislature has called efforts to “realize personal gain through official conduct” to be a violation of “public trust.”[21]  And the Mississippi Supreme Court has called nepotism and self-dealing by public officials “two of the more pernicious threats to our democratic ideals.”[22]

Citizens have the right to demand that our public officials carry out their duties in an ethical manner.[23]  Ensuring that they do so, and holding them accountable if they don’t, is the Hattiesburg Patriots’ primary reason for existence – its raison d'être.  This site will continue to fulfill its mission, especially when our elected officials appear to have violated laws as fundamental as this.

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The below document Ethics Opinions

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The below document 25-1-53-Employment of relatives prohibited; exceptions

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The below document 25-4-101 Legislative Declaration

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The below document 25-4-103-Definitions

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The below document 25-4-105 Contract restrictions and other prohibited conduct penalties

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The below document 25-4-109 Fines and other penalties

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The below document 25-4-113 Civil actions against violators costs and attorney fees

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The below document Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning v Ray

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The below document City of Jackson v Greene

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The below document Hinds Community College Dist v Muse

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Footnotes: 

[1]           Transcript of Sentencing Hearing, March 17, 2017, United States v. Bolton, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Eastern Division, Criminal Action No. 2:16-cr-0007-KS-MTP.

[2]           Miss. Code Ann. §§ 25-4-101, et seq.

[3]           Id. § 25-4-105(1).

[4]           Id. § 25-4-103 (l), (p), and (q).

[5]           Miss. Ethics Op. No. 11-076-E (Jan. 6, 2012) (emphasis added).

[6]           Id. (emphasis added).

[7]           Miss. Code Ann. § 25-4-103(f).

[8]           Id. § 25-4-103(g), (p).

[9]              Miss. Code Ann. § 25-4-105(6).

[10]             Id. § 25–4–109.

[11]             Id. § 25–4–113.

[12]         Muse, 725 So. 2d at 211.

[13]         Id. § 25–4–19.

[14]         Id. § 25–4–21.

[15]         Id.

[16]         Id. §§ 25-4-107, 25–4–19(g)(ii), & 25–4–113; Bd. of Tr. of State Inst. of Higher Learning v. Ray, 809 So. 2d 627, 634 (Miss. 2002).

[17]         Miss. Code Ann. § 25-1-53 (prohibiting employment of person related to department head by blood or marriage “within the third degree”).

[18]         Id. § 25-1-53 (“This section shall not apply to any employee who shall have been in said department … prior to the time his or her kinsman … became the head of said department ….”); see Op. Atty. Gen. No. 2002-0580, Keating (Oct. 11, 2002).

[19]         Miss. Ethics Op. No. 05-053-E (July 22, 2005).

[20]         Miss. Ethics Op. No. 11-076-E (Jan. 6, 2012); Miss. Ethics Op. No. 10-092-E (Sept. 10, 2010).

[21]         Miss. Code Ann. § 25-4-101 (emphasis added).

[22]         Hinds Community College Dist. v. Muse, 725 So. 2d 207, 211 (Miss. 1998).

[23]         City of Jackson v. Greene, 869 So. 2d 1020, 1026 (Miss. 2004).

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148 COMMENTS

  1. Nick Calico has worked for the so long before married to Megan so where is the law broke.. there is more then one Dept in the pine belt with blood relatives working side by side but your saying they broke some stupid outdated code of ethics.. I would like to see your code of ethics for you break so many daily and how you have gone this long with only one beating I am unsure.. I for one could care less who Nick or anyone else marries in our LEDepartmemt as long as they do their job who they marry is none of my business or anyone else for that matter.. you know if you spent half your time so called reporting of topics that truly mattered you might have more people on your side.. js. Congratulations again nick and Megan

    • Do you have proof that a law was broken. Do you have proof that his position was awarded after his marriage and if so awarded do you have proof that it was unlawfully given.. I’m guessing not.. Do you have proof he was treated better then any other employee and until you have proof that he was done so you are doing no more then standing on a soap box sitting in a puddle of water hoping your words are heard before you box melts.. I care and value the laws given to this great country, I have served for my country but I also know that some laws while good in theory are poor in design.. all of this is based on speculation and someone’s( You mainly) desire to stir up hate and in a world where there is so much already why add to it.. you could pick so many platforms that would be positive but you choose to only post about hate and stir the hate post more..

    • Incorrect. You are confusing Nepotism law with Ethics Law. You Keep citing a position having to to with Nepostim law. No allegation was made that a Nepotism statute was violated. However, the Ethics statute is much tougher. Why? Because Constitutional Section 109 deals with Ethics, and section 25-4-105(1) is a legislative expansion of Constitutional Section 109. It’s confusing, but some people want to ignore 25-4-105 in favor of Nepotism statute, when in fact 25-4-105 supersedes the Nepositm law.

      Bottom line is that no relative within the 3rd degree of a department head may work under that relative. It’s just that simple. The Nepostim laws do not go this far, but 25-4-105 does, and it trumps anything else.

    • No it isn’t. No law was broken if the position he is in was granted before he became Billy’s son in law or if his last raise was before nov. if all existed before the marriage took place then no law was broken.. I don’t know who brought the charges up or who filed a suit but I think they are pretty shitty.. misery loves company and this is clearly an act of someone trying to get the spotlight on themselves so they start crap.. I for one don’t care.. I have know of and known nick for years and not once has that man ever stepped out of line and has always gone above and beyond for his community

    • Yes. The proof is in the article, but you still don’t understand. Read the article. It does not matter when he was hired with regard to Ethics statute 25-4-105. You keep citing a provision dealing with the Nepotism Laws. No allegation was ever made here that a Nepositm law was violated. Your concern with when he was hired is irrelevant to 25-4-105(1)

  2. ” Nick Calico will have to repay all of his ill gotten gains from his unlawful employment since the date of his marriage to Sheriff McGee’s daughter”

    Only if a complaint is actually lodged against him. Yet, the liable gains shouldn’t be the direct salary, since that’s likely to be independent of the Sheriffs discretionary acts. The only “unethical” gains should be where the Sheriff practiced discretion. Also, it’s probably inaccurate to say that the employment is unlawful, yet a circumstance where a violation is “virtually inevitable.”

    The article does a good job in demonstrating the potential for a conflict of interest, yet isn’t meeting the burden to show anything more excessive.

    ” One or both will have to resign since state ethics/conflicts of interest laws will not permit both to stay in the department”

    You convinced me that somebody should move from the department, but we have quite a few LEO agencies available where PERS can be maintained. This would be acceptable, especially since I have yet to see where this is a deliberate unethical act, yet merely an oversight. The article reported an unethical circumstance, but not a deliberate attempt to create or maintain an unethical circumstance.

    While it may have been prudent to seek an advisory opinion from the ethics commission, I don’t see this as a real show stopper. I’m not sure how long he’s been married, nor how much discretionary reimbursement or opportunity that occurred, but it may be likely that its cheaper to merely point out the problem and see if its handled.

    On a side note, my cousin went outside of Wayne County into Alabama to find a girlfriend long ago due to too many relatives, and he still met one of his fourth cousins! I would love to see us have good legislation that regulates nepotism in a more sane manner. We provide for a small bit of it when the compensation is unable to be influence by a relative, but some of the in-law relationship laws may need to be reviewed with the many advisory opinions to make a better solution. We forget that all of us are related to each other all the way back to Noah, except maybe those who feel we are related to fish and donkeys.

    • Randi Renaye Terrell complaining with the “mouth” is a good way to draw attention to a matter. How the matter is handled is also an excellent thing to draw attention toward. Is an amenable correction of the problem being pursued, or is a decision possibly involving the penalty of fines being sought?

      There has not even been a ball park estimate of “ill gotten gains” that have accrued. It’s possible there may not be enough money involved to make a penalty worthwhile. Also, the circumstance that was reported merely describes a situation where a violation is “virtually inevitable.” There is no claim that a violation occurred, nor, if it did, the amount of money that was potentially misspent.

      This is one of those times where I would give a fair warning, wait and see what happens, then seek a remedy if the problem isn’t corrected. I don’t really feel that this needs any immediate action without providing a chance to fix things.

  3. I have read articles by the Hattiesburg Patriot and I have wondered so many times how you’ve managed to go unharmed. In all sincerity, your safety concerns me. You can only push a person so far before they reach a breaking point and retaliation becomes a priority. Nick Calico is one of the finest men behind the badge. Regardless of the conflict or what “news” this may be, throwing someone under the bus is classless. The bible instructs us to live at peace with all men and that hate stirs up strife. For those who don’t personally know you, it certainly raises questions of integrity and motive. Being morally sound in the world in which we live is certainly doable. I want others to see the love of Jesus in me.

    • In Hinds County Community College v Muse the Supreme Court ruling is clear.

      Some people care if elected officials follow the Constitution and Ethics Laws, and some don’t care.

      This site hoods elected officials and people in the positions of the public’s trust accountable.

      Clearly your bias has created a cognitive dissonance of the facts. That’s normal for diehard supporters of Mcgee and/or Calico.

      Interestingly the damning Ethics Opinion that was issued just this June was one month before the engagement of Calico to McGee’s daughter. Coincidence?

    • FYI I do know cops that have married and have hired there siblings. If you think I would tell you you have lost your mind. Your out to hurt people.

      Let’s get some things straight. Throwing under the bus is the least your doing. You do way more to hurt people and I really think you have stepped down the wrong path this time so I’ll be praying for you.

      You said,

      “Attorney General Jim Hood or DA Patricia Burchell must enforce the law or a private Attorney General appointed by a Chancery judge will.”

      How can you say Jim Hood Must in force the law. Your not the law. They can do what they feel is right. You don’t even know the law. What are you going to do if Jim Hood don’t fire a good cop and comes up with a better solution for Calico family and the county, dog him out too?

      You said,
      “The Corruption never ends with the #BillyClub and the #UnafraidToFeed crew.”
      When you refer to The Billy Magee crew which means our entire sheriffs department and the supporting citizens. You are basically say we are all worthless.

      When you said ”

      (1) Nick Calico will have to repay all of his ill gotten gains from his unlawful employment since the date of his marriage to Sheriff McGee’s daughter.”

      You don’t have any facts to support this. So all you do is stir up crap. This is fake news and is defamation of character. You remind me of the Enquirer or a fake wrestling match. Your fake as hell and you hide behind your lies and you love making people hate Hattiesburg. Let me ask you this Thomas E Garmon. If you hate it so much why do you live here? Why do you hide behind Facebook? Show me a reason why you even wanted to run for Mayor? How did you expect to even get elected with a mouth like yours? If you hate Hattiesburg so much then leave.

      If you would report the facts and watch your mouth people might take you more seriously.

    • I am the most transparent human being on the face of this planet and would wear no mask at any cost. I’m also on no “list.” Nick is merely a professional acquaintance who happens to be a friend of someone I’m close to. Cowardice, however, is being a keyboard ninja hiding behind a Facebook page. I’ll give credit where credit is due though. You must be a pretty tough individual to withstand being bashed and despised 24/7. I, personally, would hate to live that life. Glad to see you found the time to expound on and edit your original comment, 24 hours later.

    • Breaking the law by default because you fell in love and got married at least 8 years after being employed is much different than being a CRIMINAL! Billy McGee has never been convicted of any crimes and you better believe as hard as people have tried he would be if he were guilty of something. Only a fool believes everything they read. FYI as soon as this was brought to their attention they were already trying to find a remedy for this situation before Hattiesburg Patriot even reported it.

  4. What I have never understood is how Forrest county people could allow the jail complex be named for the current serving sheriff. Another queer thing is the constant conversation about corruption within the FCSO. Yet nothing seems to change with the exception of Bolton of course.

  5. It doesn’t matter what any of us say your gonna come back with this is a new media and you are reporting the news. Nick Calico worked in that office before he was married and probably one of the finest men in there, and would do anything for anyone!! I understand you are desperate for some reason to bring Billy down but come on enough is enough is this really news and breaking the law.. I really wish you would think of his wife and kids and not just yourself.. There is so much going on in this world and Hattiesburg hell come to Petal, but this is crossing the line. You have a lot of people that follow you but you are also gonna wake up one day and wonder why no one cares what you have to say any more.. I hope the tables never turn on you because I am sure that you don’t have any skeletons in your closet do you?

  6. Nick calico has been working for Forrest County for years. He was employed there way before he got married. Well I’m sure Nick Calico didn’t realize this and I am positive he could work anywhere he wants too. Great cop means jobs are plentiful for him. I understand the law but don’t make him out to being a bad person. You don’t know him. As a reporter you should report the news as it is without your opinion not bash everyone due to an honest mistake. Have you ever read a law book. Good luck. It’s a lot to remember. Go to school for criminal justice and see. Praying for you Nick and your family and I pray the law changes for you or Jim Hood finds you another position somewhere. I don’t see him leaving you jobless.

  7. Why is McGee still sheriff? He’s supposedly semi-retired. Makes me think he is only in office because of some inappropriate advantage. After the Bolton scandal, he should have bowed out or have been forced out because this scandal happened under his administration. Deplorable. Reminds me of a Louisiana politician. Disgusting. The people of Forrest county deserve better than this.