AG Hood Reminds Storm Victims of Model Home Repair Contract Available

April 19, 2019

Following a deadly outbreak of multiple tornadoes across the state recently, Attorney General Jim Hood is reminding Mississippians who suffered property damage as a result of the storms to be on alert for tree cutters and home repair contractors who may be scammers.

“Unfortunately, this is a problem after some storms. Most contractors are there to help, but I want to remind Mississippians of steps they can take to prevent themselves from being scammed by fly-by-night repair people,” General Hood said. “Our office has created a guide that outlines the exact questions to ask when seeking clean up and repairs so that storm victims have one less thing to worry about during this process. Our investigators are in these affected areas providing standard form home repair contracts to make sure that people do not fall victim.”

Here are some tips to protect you and your loved ones from fraudulent tree cutters, roofers, contractors, and others:

  • Verify that the company you are considering is insured. Ask for a copy of the certificate of insurance.
  • Do your research. Contact our Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi to see if they have complaints against the company. Ask for several local references and make sure to follow through on checking them. Look online at reviews of their work.
  • Take time to shop around and be suspicious of any price that seems unusually high or low. Get written estimates from more than one company, and check with friends or family who’ve had tree work done recently to see what they paid and who they recommend.
  • Ask how the job will be done and if they will perform the work according to industry standards. For tree removal services, pay attention to the “lingo” such as “topping a tree,” “lion’s-tailing” or “using climbing spikes to prune a tree.” Sometimes these techniques will be presented as a way to save money by removing more of the tree at one time; however, these practices can injure or kill trees, and trees pruned by one of these methods usually requires more expensive restoration work in the future in order to save it.
  • Ask about post-job clean up and debris removal. Before the job is started, ask if the company will remove the tree, damaged roof, or other items from your property as well. If you don’t, it could lead to you having to also pay for debris removal.

More information on home repair fraud can be found in our online guide, “Consumer Tips for Storm Victims.”

If home repair fraud is suspected, contact the AG’s Consumer Protection Division at (601) 359-4230 or (800) 281-4418. You may also email concerns to aginfo@ago.state.ms.us

 


Man Arrested on 10 Counts of Downloading Child Porn

April 11, 2019

A Rankin County man was denied bond Thursday morning after investigators with Attorney General Jim Hood’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested him for allegedly downloading child pornography.

Timothy Sistrunk, 57, was arrested Wednesday and charged with 10 counts of child exploitation for possession of child pornography. He is being held in the Rankin County jail without bond.

If convicted, Sistrunk faces up to 400 years in prison and $5,000,000 in fines. A charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case was investigated by the AG’s ICAC Task Force with assistance from the Florence Police Department, University of Mississippi Medial Center Police Department, and ICAC affiliate Rankin County Sheriff’s Office. It will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.


Crime Victims, Advocates Awarded at Annual Ceremony

April 9, 2019

L-R: Director of Crime Victims Compensation Division Amy Walker, Attorney General Jim Hood, Director of the AG’s Bureau of Victim Assistance Paula Broome

As the nation continues to recognize National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Attorney General Jim Hood was joined by other victims’ rights leaders Tuesday in presenting four awards honoring Mississippi crime victims and those who are advocates for victims in our state. The awards were presented at the annual Mississippi’s Crime Victims’ Rights Awards Ceremony, which held the theme “Honoring our Past: Creating Hope for our Future.”

The award recipients included the following:

The Attorney General’s Crime Victim Compensation Division presented the following award:

  • Distinguished Service Award: Brenda Hendricks, Billing Specialist II, University of Mississippi Medical Center
    • Brenda was recognized for her diligence in providing the division with billing documentation essential to processing the requests for medical expenses from victims of violent crimes.

L-R: Attorney General Jim Hood and Recipient of Distinguished Service Award- Brenda Hendricks, Billing Specialist II, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Deputy Director of Crime Victim Compensation Division Lacelle Clemons

The Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide presented the following 2019 Amy Clayton Awards:

  • The Amy Clayton Justice Achievement Award: Investigator Bill Lott, Lieutenant, Starkville Police Department
    • Lt. Lott was recognized with this award for his tireless dedication in investigating the 1990 “Labor Day” murders of Betty Jones and Kathryn Crigler, whose suspected killer was identified and arrested in 2018 after testing the DNA of more than 60 people over nearly three decades.

L-R: Attorney General Jim Hood and Recipient of The Amy Clayton Justice Achievement Award- Investigator Bill Lott, Lieutenant, Starkville Police Department

  • The Amy Clayton Victim Service Award: Joy Jones, Bureau Director I, VAWA Administrator, Office Against Interpersonal Violence
    • Jones was recognized for her many years of exceptional work in assisting victims of violent crime. Victim advocacy has been Jones’ chosen profession since 2001, where she has served in many different capacities such as grant coordinator and shelter director for Care Lodge in Meridian, Deputy Director of the Crime Victim Compensation Division with the Mississippi Office of the Attorney General, volunteer for the Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide, and Violence Against Women Act grant administrator for the Mississippi Department of Health, Office Against Interpersonal Violence.

L-R: Attorney General Jim Hood, Recipient of The Amy Clayton Victim Service Award- Joy Jones, Bureau Director I, VAWA Administrator, Office Against Interpersonal Violence, Director of Crime Victims Compensation Division Amy Walker and Director of the AG’s Bureau of Victim Assistance Paula Broome

  • The Amy Clayton Volunteer Award: Danny and Lisa Mann, volunteers for the Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide
    • After the murder of her father in 1989, Lisa and her husband, Danny Mann, began volunteering at Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide.  Lisa is now a full time employee of the Shafer Center, coordinating their efforts for victims of homicide, and both she and Danny continue to use the insight they have gained from their personal experience as homicide survivors to bring awareness to victim issues and provide supportive services to victims of violent crime.

L-R: Attorney General Jim Hood, Recipients of The Amy Clayton Volunteer Award- Danny and Lisa Mann, volunteers for the Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide, Representative from the Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide, and Commissioner of the MS Department of Corrections Pelicia E. Hall

Paula Granger, Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator of the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, presented the following award:

  • Image of Resilience Survivor Award: Shavonne Osborne
    • Shavonne is a survivor of domestic violence who has used that negative situation to give a voice to the voiceless by helping other victims through her volunteerism with domestic violence organizations.

L-R: Attorney General Jim Hood, Recipient of the Image of Resilience Survivor Award- Shavonne Osborne, and Paula Granger, Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator of the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Attorney General Jim Hood gives remarks and expresses his appreciation to award recipients and staff members housed in the AGO’s Bureau of Victim Assistance.

“I speak for many in the attorney general’s office in saying how thankful I am for each of these award recipients for using their time and talents to assist victims of crime in our state,” General Hood said. “One of my proudest efforts during my time as attorney general has been helping victims and making sure our office is staffed with and collaborates with people who truly care about someone in their darkest moment. I’m incredibly appreciative of the hard working staff in our office’s Bureau of Victim Assistance who spend each day doing whatever they can to make sure victims receive the financial assistance and direct services needed during the aftermath of a violent crime.”

The Crime Victim Compensation Program, administered by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Victim Assistance, reimburses eligible crime victims or next-of-kin for crime related expenses not covered by other sources, such as insurance. This past fiscal year, the program distributed more than $2.5 million to 999 Mississippi victims of crime who were in need of financial support due to injuries related to the criminal acts perpetrated against them. Eligible applicants may receive compensation for medical treatment, mental health services, funeral costs, and several other types of expenses. The maximum amount distributed per crime is $20,000.

For more information on the services provided by the Bureau of Victim Assistance, call (800) 829-6766 or (601) 359-6766 or visit www.agjimhood.com. This year’s ceremony was made possible through partnerships with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Mississippi Coalition for Survivors of Homicide, and Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence.


Lucedale Woman Charged for Creating Child Porn

April 4, 2019

Investigators with Attorney General Jim Hood’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested a woman in Lucedale Wednesday for allegedly producing child pornography.

Mary Yvonne Torres, 37, was arrested at her home after investigators received information connecting her to a child exploitation arrest by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office. She was charged with one count of child exploitation for production of child pornography with more charges expected. She was booked in the George County Detention Center, awaiting an initial appearance.

If convicted, Torres faces up to 40 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. A charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case was investigated by the AG’s ICAC Task Force with assistance from the Louisiana Department of Justice and ICAC affiliate agencies Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and George County Sheriff’s Office. It will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.


More than $5.73 Million Recovered in Katrina Insurance Cases

April 3, 2019

Mississippi recovered more than $5.7 million from settlements in the Homeowner Assistance Program (“HAP”) cases regarding misconduct by homeowner insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina.

Mississippi has recovered more than $5.7 million from settlements in the Homeowner Assistance Program (“HAP”) cases regarding misconduct by homeowner insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

The state returned $5,738,016.74 to the Mississippi Development Authority’s Disaster Recovery Office. The litigation was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court between November 2015 and April 2018, seeking to recover damages for HAP proceeds that the state distributed to Katrina victims but that the insurance companies should have paid instead under their homeowner insurance policies.

Mississippi established HAP after Katrina to provide financial assistance to Mississippi homeowners whose insurance did not fully cover the damage caused by the storm. General Hood alleged in these lawsuits that these insurance companies mischaracterized Katrina wind damage (which its policies covered) as flood damage (which its policies did not cover) and otherwise understated compensable Katrina wind damage to improperly minimize their own financial burdens and foist that burden instead onto HAP. In doing so, these insurance companies caused Mississippi to pay millions of dollars to thousands of insured Mississippi homeowners that the state otherwise could have allotted to other recovery efforts.

“These insurance companies showed ultimate greed in a time of our state’s greatest need, but they didn’t stop with Mississippi,” General Hood said. “The same guy who altered engineering reports to indicate that storm surge was the cause of damage in Hurricane Katrina, victimized more people in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Greed truly is the root of all evil, and I’m proud that we’re making these companies pay Mississippi the money owed. It should serve as a warning to other companies thinking about taking advantage of Mississippians at any point, but especially after a natural disaster.”

The net recoveries to date include the following four cases:

  • Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Co. (“MetLife”): $3,167,172.84
  • Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. Meritplan Insurance Co.: $1,308,091.09
  • Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. Balboa Insurance Co.: $495,358.55
  • Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. American Security Insurance Company: $767,394.26

The State has eight additional suits pending against State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, USAA Casualty Insurance Company, United Services Automobile Association, Prime Insurance Company, Allstate Insurance Company, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Allstate Indemnity Company, National Security Fire & Casualty Company, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Nationwide Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Safeco Insurance Company of America, and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Those suits collectively involve more than ten thousand instances of misconduct with damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars.


AG Hood Delivers $40 Million to State Funds from BP Payment

April 2, 2019

July 2, 2015- Attorney General Jim Hood announced in Biloxi that Mississippi had reached an agreement in principle with BP to settle claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Attorney General Jim Hood recently delivered $40 million, representing the second of 16 payments from BP, to two state funds from settlement monies owed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

General Hood reached the settlement with BP in 2015, forcing the oil company to pay $750 million for economic damages resulting from the catastrophe. The state received $150 million from BP in 2016, and payments of $40 million will continue each year, with the last payment being in 2033. Starting with this payment, 25% of each future payment will be deposited into the State BP Settlement Fund, and the remaining 75% will be deposited into the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund.

“This tragedy continues to hurt Mississippians, and the culpable companies are answerable to pay their part and help recovery efforts,” General Hood said. “I’m glad that, as requested when we settled this case, most of the settlement money will be spent on Coast recovery. The Coast is both an environmentally precious part of our state and an economic driver in Mississippi that deserves our help in reaching its full potential.”

In 2016, five Gulf Coast states, the federal government, and BP finalized a nearly $20 billion settlement in federal court. The agreement is the largest environmental settlement in history. In all, Mississippi will receive $2.174 billion from BP.


AG Hood Joins Others in Expressing Concern Regarding HHS Pain Management Draft Report

April 1, 2019

Attorney General Jim Hood joined the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to share concerns about the deviation from evidence-based recommendations regarding opioid prescribing methods included in the agency’s Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force Draft Report (Draft Report).

As it stands, the Draft Report deviates from guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which are aimed at decreasing the risk of opioid misuse. The report suggests providers can rely solely on their judgement instead of consulting evidence-based recommendations. By doing so, it weakens recommendations for opioid prescription duration and dosage.

“Much of this epidemic was caused by the opioid companies marketing these pills as non-addictive, having a total disregard for the science that showed us that, while these pills may be necessary to treat long-term pain for many individuals, they are highly addictive and not necessary to treat acute non-cancer and non-terminal pain,” explained General Hood. “To move away from CDC guidelines would further extend the opioid crisis and put more Mississippians at risk of addiction.”

The letter includes several other concerns, including that HHS does not provide a reason for departing from evidence-based CDC guidelines and does not explicitly state that there is no completely safe opioid dosage.

“Moving away from the CDC Guideline at this critical time would undermine ongoing legislative initiatives, as well as refinements to standards of medical care,” reads the NAAG letter signed by 39 state and territory attorneys general. “As a matter of public safety, there is simply no justification to move away from the CDC Guideline to encourage more liberal use of an ineffective treatment that causes nearly 50,000 deaths annually.”


General Hood led the nation in filing the first lawsuit on behalf of a state against multiple drug manufacturing companies for falsely marketing opioids as rarely addictive. The suit was filed in December 2015 in Hinds County Chancery Court against five of the largest opioid manufacturers. One of the companies in that suit, Purdue along with three of its executives, pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges and paid more than $600 million in fines related to intentional misrepresentations as to the addictiveness of OxyContin. General Hood charges that the companies deceived Mississippi Medicaid, doctors, and consumers in order to boost profits at the expense of innocent victims.

 


Trial Begins Monday in Entergy Case

March 29, 2019

The United States District Court will hear Attorney General Jim Hood’s case against Entergy beginning Monday, April 1, at 9:00 a.m. The case will be tried before District Judge Carlton Reeves. The State intends to prove the following at trial:

Entergy owes Mississippians approximately $1 billion. When a state grants an electric utility a monopoly, the company agrees to provide its customers power at the lowest reasonable cost available and to open its books. Entergy didn’t keep its promise and violated the Consumer Protection Act by refusing to buy the cheap electricity generated by newer, more efficient independent gas powered generators owned by its competitors, which drove them out of business. At the same time, Entergy sold its Mississippi ratepayers (almost a half million), including the state of Mississippi, the most expensive power generated from its old, antiquated electrical generating plants and purchased from its affiliates. Entergy’s actions made Mississippi a dumping ground of high-cost electricity. Entergy settled two cases in Louisiana involving similar claims for over $150 million.

As the result of a meeting between Attorney General Hood and the Department of Justice, the DOJ launched an investigation into Entergy’s conduct at issue in this case. Because of that investigation and this suit, Entergy was forced to cease its anti-trust activity by turning over control of its transmission system and operation of its generating units to an independent, non-profit entity. This is the reason our electrical rates have decreased, not because of Entergy’s benevolence as it claims.

General Hood stated, “For years, Entergy was more interested in paying billions in dividends and buy-backs to its shareholders instead of its duty to provide its Mississippi customers with electricity at the lowest reasonable cost. I have been fighting this case for a decade. It’s time for Entergy to stop being a poor corporate citizen and pay what they owe Mississippians. They’ve wined and dined legislative leadership to try to stop this case from going to trial, but its day of reckoning has come. I’m confident the facts will prevail in court.”