Attorney General Jim Hood’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force made eight arrests across the state last week with local agencies and sentenced two people on child exploitation charges in an effort called “Operation Trick or Treat.”
The following people were arrested between October 22 and 26:
- Jason Covington, 48, Stonewall, one count of child exploitation for possession of child pornography
- Samuel Blake Cascio, 31, Petal, two counts of child exploitation for possession of child pornography and one count of possession of a controlled substance (Methamphetamine)
- Zachorey Taylor Compton, 22, Gulfport, two counts of child exploitation for possession of child pornography
- Colby Isaiah Johnson, 22, Bay St. Louis, two counts of child exploitation for possession of child pornography
- Gordon Hopkins, 54, Amory, one count of child exploitation for possession of child pornography
- Shawn Crabtree, 34, Southaven, one count of child exploitation
- Willie Terrell Leflore, 67, Southaven, one count of child exploitation
- Kenneth Wayne Jones, 25, Lucedale, one count of enticement of a child for sexual purposes, held without bond at George County Adult Detention Facility
The following people were prosecuted:
- Quincy LaBauve of Biloxi entered an open plea in Harrison County Circuit Court for two counts of child exploitation and one count of sexual battery of a child. He will be sentenced in November. The Harrison County District Attorney’s Office assisted in prosecution.
- James Michael Williams, 52, was sentenced in DeSoto County Circuit Court after an open plea to one count of child exploitation, where he admitted to possessing child pornography of children between the ages of five and eight years old. He was sentenced to serve five years in prison with three years suspended and two to serve.
“Parents should always be aware that no matter where you live, work, or play, there are unfortunately sick people who prey on children. Our cybercrime team never stops working so that they can protect you and your loved ones, and last week’s arrests and sentencings show they are doing just that,” General Hood said. “We couldn’t do this without the help of our local, state, and federal partners, and I thank them for their commitment to protecting Mississippi’s children.”
Assistance in these cases was given by the Mississippi Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation Jackson Office, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations Jackson and Gulfport Offices, Clarke County Sheriff’s Department, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Harrison County Sheriff’s Office, Harrison County District Attorney’s Office, Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, Waveland Police Department’s Cybercrime Division, Southaven Police Department, Bay St. Louis Police Department, Lucedale Police Department, Pearl Police Department, Madison Police Department, Ridgeland Police Department, Meridian Public Schools Campus Police Department, Greenwood Police Department, and the Carroll County Constable’s Office.
In addition to the arrests and convictions, members of the ICAC Task Force did five presentations to nearly 1,000 4th-9th grade students along with 40 mentors, teachers, parents and administrators.
General Hood also encouraged families to keep safety in mind this Halloween by offering the following reminders and tips:
- Take children to familiar neighborhoods and approach only homes with outside lighting.
- Remind children of everyday safety rules, such as not getting into cars or talking to strangers, watching both ways before crossing streets, and crossing with the stop light at an intersection when they are trick-or-treating.
- Adults should always accompany small children to caution them against running into streets and across lawns or driveways. Please use sidewalks where available.
- Encourage children to wait until they get home to eat candy so that adults can inspect the goodies.
- Parents should throw away any treats that are not commercially wrapped or appear to be tampered with.
- Choose costumes with light or bright colors whenever possible, or trim a darker costume with reflective tape. Consider also having children carry a flashlight to make sure they can see the walking path and are visible to drivers.
In observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Attorney General Jim Hood and the AG’s Bureau of Victim Assistance honored nine outstanding law enforcement officers with an award Thursday for their response to a domestic violence situation in their community.
“Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous calls to which our law enforcement respond,” General Hood said. “Unfortunately, domestic violence is a problem in Mississippi, and we’ve lost too many people to it—including officers. This recognition is a small way for our staff to let these deserving officers know that we appreciate their commitment to protecting our families and communities.”
The following officers, who were selected from nominations received from across the state, received an award during a luncheon with General Hood:
- Avery Farish, Ocean Springs Police Department
- Chris Ballard, Long Beach Police Department
- Jonathan Blakeney, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
- Kevin Egan, Ocean Springs Police Department
- Kevin Johnson, Moss Point Police Department
- Mark Alison, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office
- Mike Krebs, Oceans Springs School District
- Shannon Koss, Jones County Sheriff’s Office
Additionally, an overall award was given to Captain Penny Jones of the Vicksburg Police Department. Jones received this honor after multiple nominations were submitted on her behalf, stating that her “ongoing leadership and dedication and initiative to victims has earned the respect of her peers and she has become a role model in the field of domestic violence.” Jones, who has served at the Vicksburg Police Department for 19 years and is also a victim of domestic violence, released a moving video to raise awareness of domestic violence by informing the public of the signs and statistics of domestic violence and how to get help.
“I want to be the voice for the victims when they can’t help themselves,” Jones said. “Considering that I’ve been a victim myself, I know that there is help and that there is a way out.”
“Domestic violence affects both women and men of every race, every religion. We can’t continue to stay silent,” said Vicksburg Police Chief Milton Moore. “Domestic violence can be so easy for people to ignore, especially if it’s not happening to them. If we take a stand and work together by speaking out against domestic violence, we can help change attitudes and show that domestic violence is a crime that will not be tolerated in our society.
Captain Penny Jones has played an intricate part in assisting victims of domestic violence as well as bringing justice to those responsible. She goes above and beyond the call of duty to make sure justice is served. The City of Vicksburg takes domestic violence crimes very seriously and will continue to support victims of domestic violence by any means.”
General Hood formed the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office Domestic Violence Unit in 2006. Those who need information, advocacy and referrals to local resources may call the Bureau of Victim Assistance at 800-829-6766.
James Michael Williams, 52, of Walls, will spend two years in prison for possessing pornographic images of children ages five to eight, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Williams was sentenced Tuesday in DeSoto County Circuit Court after entering an open plea on one count of child exploitation. Judge Gerald Chatham sentenced him to five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with two years to serve and three years suspended, followed by 10 years supervised post release supervision. Williams is prohibited from owning or possessing any electronic device capable of accessing the internet for 10 years following his release from prison. He must also pay a $1,000 fine, $1,000 to the Children’s Trust Fund, investigative costs, and court costs, fees, and assessments. Additionally, Williams must register as a sex offender and complete a therapy program for child pornography for which he must provide a certificate of completion to the Mississippi Office of the Attorney General. Judge Chatham’s sentencing order also included a one year right of review.
“Mississippi’s children are safer today thanks to the work of our Cyber Crime Unit,” General Hood said. “I thank them for their work in protecting Mississippi’s most precious population.”
This case was investigated by the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Taskforce and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Mark McClinton.
A total of 162 people have been convicted of child exploitation crimes to date by General Hood’s ICAC Task Force.
Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that he joined a coalition of 33 attorneys general calling on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Acting Director Mick Mulvaney to continue protecting military service members against predatory lenders under the Military Lending Act (MLA). The attorneys general urge the CFPB to reconsider its reported decision to stop examining lenders to ensure they are complying with the MLA.
The MLA, enacted in 2006, protects military service members and their families against exploitative lenders and loans so that service members aren’t overburdened with debt. The CFPB has the authority to examine lenders’ compliance with the MLA to detect potential risks to consumers and ensure that military service members aren’t being offered illegal loans. This is especially important for younger service members who have less experience managing their own finances and may be more vulnerable to predatory loans.
“Protecting those who sacrifice for our country every day should not be a political bargaining chip,” General Hood said. “This is about right and wrong and the very purpose of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is to protect Americans from predatory businesses, especially when they take advantage of our nation’s heroes.”
Approximately 60 percent of military families report experiencing stress related to their financial condition. Service members in financial distress may have their security clearance revoked and be compelled to leave the military, resulting in the loss of well-trained service members and additional financial burdens for the military.
General Hood is joined in sending this letter by the attorneys general of Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
Senior citizens in Mississippi and other states are now protected from potential increased prescription drug prices and reduced choices that could have resulted from the merger of CVS Health and Aetna thanks to a settlement by Attorney General Jim Hood, the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) and a multistate coalition.
The agreed order requires Aetna to sell Medicare Part D plans of 1.5 million people to their competitor, WellCare Health Plans, in order to move forward with the planned merger. Prior to the agreement, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office was concerned that the $69 billion merger would cause anticompetitive effects, including increased prices, inferior customer service, and decreased innovation in sixteen Medicare Part D regions covering twenty-two states. The complaint, filed in D.C. District Court, alleges that the loss of competition between CVS and Aetna would result in lower-quality services and increased costs for consumers, the federal government, and ultimately, taxpayers.
Based on a report by insurance regulators, the proposed merger could have otherwise made a particular impact in Mississippi but for the divestiture.
“The proposed merger would join two of the largest companies in this market: CVS, which holds the second largest market share, and Aetna, the fourth largest. Without requiring Aetna to sell off part of its business in order for the merger to go through, the consolidation could have harmed Mississippi’s most vulnerable populations, seniors ages 65 and over and people with disabilities, by reducing options and increasing healthcare costs,” General Hood said. “As part of the agreement, we will receive information that will help us monitor the impact of the merger on our older citizens and intervene if necessary.”
CVS is a nationwide drugstore chain that has grown to include pharmacy benefit management and SilverScript Insurance, and Aetna is one of the nation’s largest health insurance carriers. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Aetna must assist WellCare in operating the business during the transition and in transferring the affected customers through a process regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
General Hood was joined in this announcement by the USDOJ and attorneys general from California, Hawai’i, Florida and Washington.
Attorney General Jim Hood joined a bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general in calling upon the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules allowing telephone service providers to block more of the illegal robocalls that are made to unsuspecting consumers in Mississippi and across the country.
The formal comment to the FCC follows comments previously made by the Mississippi Attorney General to the FCC regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and explains that scammers, using illegal robocalls, have found ways to evade a call blocking order entered last year by the FCC. The FCC’s 2017 Order granted phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls and was a bipartisan victory for American consumers.
Despite the FCC’s Order, robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers and costly to small businesses in Mississippi and across the United States. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints—two and a half times more than in 2014. The Mississippi Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division received nearly 2,000 reports in Fiscal Year 2018 with respect to scam phone calls and 405 since July 1 . Therefore, the attorneys general now seek broader authority for the providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls—including “neighbor spoofing.”
“These calls aren’t just an annoyance. They are a safety concern,” General Hood said. “Our office often receives complaints regarding scam calls, many involving someone, especially the elderly, sending money to the scammer on the other end of the phone. The caller’s message is more believable when it is coming from a number the consumer recognizes.”
“Spoofing” allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice. “Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection,” the attorneys general wrote in the formal comment filed with the FCC.
“Neighbor spoofing” is a technique that allows calls—no matter where they originate—to appear on a consumer’s caller ID as being made from a phone number that has the same local area code as the consumer. This manipulation of caller ID information increases the likelihood that the consumer will answer the call.
In the formal comment, the attorneys general also expressed support for a new initiative, referred to by the acronym Stir / Shaken, which will give phone service providers the ability to authenticate and certify legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls—even those coming from what are otherwise legitimate phone numbers. Service providers will be ready to launch this new authentication method in 2019.
To date, the FCC has not issued a notice of proposed rulemaking concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking. The attorneys general anticipate that further requests for comments will take place on this subject. The current comments concern illegal robocalls, which are made to consumers regardless of whether or not they sign up for do-not-call lists.
This summer, General Hood partnered with the Mississippi Public Service Commission to issue two consumer guides with information regarding robocalls for both mobile and landlines. The information guides consumers through their options on both the state and national level in registering for Do Not Call lists and reporting violations of those lists. The guides, which can be downloaded for free at this link, also include information on resources from mobile apps, phone carriers and cloud-based services, and built-in features on mobile phones.
The following states joined Mississippi on the comment: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.
For a copy of the comment, click here.
A former state employee is going to prison for embezzling $63,864.18 while employed at the Mississippi Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS), announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Amanda Ruth Combs, 32, of Brandon, was sentenced Thursday on three counts of Embezzlement by a State Employee by Warren County Circuit Court Judge M. James Chaney, Jr. Judge Chaney sentenced Combs to 10 years in prison with five of those years suspended, leaving Combs with five years to serve and five years on supervised probation. The sentences for each count are to run concurrently to each other, leaving Combs a total of five years to serve behind bars followed by five years of supervised probation. Additionally, Combs was ordered to pay $1,000 in fines and court costs and $500 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund. She must also pay $30,917.62 in restitution today. PERS has already recovered $32,946.56.
“We appreciate the very just sentence handed down by Judge Chaney,” said General Hood. “Full restitution with time to serve will insure this defendant pays due penance for this crime.”
This case was investigated by Roger Wade and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division.
Two Mississippi men are behind bars in separate cases on charges of possession of child pornography, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.
Michael Joseph Gennaro, Jr., 32, of Saucier, was sentenced Thursday by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Krebs to 40 years in prison, with six years to serve, 34 years suspended and five years post-release supervision. He must also pay a $1,000 fine to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund and an additional $1,000 assessment to the Children’s Trust Fund, and he must register as a sex offender upon his release.
Gennaro was arrested at his home in February 2017 after an investigation by the attorney general’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which resulted in the discovery of numerous images and videos of child pornography. He pleaded guilty in August to one count of child exploitation. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Ocean Springs Police Department and the Gulf Coast Cybercrime Taskforce provided assistance on this case.
Adam Brent Wallace, 37, of Sumrall, was sentenced Friday after he entered an open plea to one count of child exploitation. Lamar County Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell sentenced Wallace to 10 years in prison, with five years to serve and five years post-release supervision. He must also pay a $10,000 fine, a $1,000 assessment to the Children’s Trust Fund and an additional $5,000 public defender fee. Wallace must also register as a sex offender upon his release.
Wallace was arrested by the attorney general’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force following an investigation that uncovered numerous photos of child pornography on Wallace’s computer. The FBI Child Exploitation Task Force provided assistance on this case.
“Our duty to protect our children continues to make these cases a high priority for our office,” General Hood said. “I commend the investigators from agencies across the state who spend endless hours on these cases, and I thank our prosecutors and judges for sending perpetrators to jail and away from our precious children.”
Both of these cases were prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn of the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit.
A total of 161 people have been convicted of child exploitation crimes to date by General Hood’s ICAC Task Force.