Attorney General Jim Hood Issued the Following Statement on Judge Carlton Reeves’ Ruling Regarding HB 1523

July 1, 2016
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“The federal court’s ruling was straightforward and clear.  On page 9, the court quotes statements made by legislators, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor.  The court found that those statements, along with the inclusion of the term “sincerely held religious beliefs” and the definition thereof in HB 1523, were strong evidence that the law was unconstitutional.  “In 2014, the state enacted the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which created a right of citizens to sue the state in state court if they felt that their religious freedoms were being overburdened. The federal court observed that this act was already in law when those officials went for a second victory lap to reinvigorate the support of churchgoing people by passing HB 1523 in an overtly political fashion.

“I can’t pick my clients, but I can speak for myself as a named defendant in this lawsuit. The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms. Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies.  No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason.  I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man.

“Our attorneys will evaluate this decision to determine whether or not to appeal all or parts of Thursday’s ruling. We do intend to appeal the Court’s decision earlier in the week to extend the injunction to cover circuit clerks, who were never parties to the case.

“I believe in the free exercise of religion and there will be a case in the future in which the U.S. Supreme Court will better define our religious rights.  This case, however, is not that vehicle.  “In consideration of the individual rights of all our citizens, the state’s current budget crisis and the cost of appeal, I will have to think long and hard about spending taxpayer money to appeal the case against me.  An appeal could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, North Carolina has set aside $500,000 for defense of its bathroom law. Even if we won and the injunction were set aside on appeal, the case would be remanded and proceed to trial over about two years.  Because of the huge tax breaks handed out to big corporations by these same leaders, the state is throwing mentally ill patients out on the street.  This is hardly protecting the least among us as Jesus directed.”


Attorney General Jim Hood Announces Results of “Operation Broken Heart III” at Conclusion of Internet Safety Awareness Month

June 30, 2016
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Attorney General Jim Hood announced today the results of “Operation Broken Heart III,” part of a nationwide investigative operation to intensify efforts to identify and arrest accused child sexual predators.

In Mississippi, the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit, the Mississippi Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force and its affiliate law enforcement agencies conducted the operation. The Attorney General’s Office leads the ICAC Task Force in the state. Across the country, more than 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the two-month long operation with the purpose of arrests, as well as internet safety education and outreach.

“With the rise in online predators in Mississippi, our office and the 61 ICAC task forces across the country work hard daily to identify, arrest and prosecute the individuals who are harming our children by exploiting them online,” Attorney General Hood said. “Through collaborative investigations such as Operation Broken Heart, our efforts toward the ultimate goal of keeping our children safe are strengthened.”

During this year’s operation, the Mississippi ICAC Task Force entities executed 23 search warrants resulting in 12 arrests of individuals throughout the state. Some of those search warrants were issued for property of individuals that have not yet been arrested. In other cases, multiple search warrants were issued to the same defendant. The forensic examiners of Attorney General Hood’s Cyber Crime Division examined more than 35 terabytes of digital media.

“By arresting and prosecuting alleged child predators across the state, we are sending a clear message that we are dedicated to working together to bring these perpetrators to justice,” Attorney General Hood said.

The Attorney General’s Office formed the state’s ICAC task force in 2007. The task force is dedicated to enhancing investigative responses to offenders who use the internet, online communication systems or computer technology to exploit children, as well as, improving the forensic analyses of electronic evidence. In addition, the task force focuses on educating the public and training law enforcement affiliate agencies. The Mississippi unit has conducted numerous internet safety presentations and training courses.

“As a father, I worry about how the internet has become a refuge for pedophiles and child pornographers targeting our young people,” Attorney General Hood said. “This is an area where we cannot fall behind the curve. My office is committed to making sure parents and teachers are equipped with the knowledge and ability to keep up with the latest technology and keep our kids safe. It is imperative that we keep a close eye on what our children are doing online and who they are talking to.”

As Internet Safety Awareness Month, observed each year in June, concludes, Attorney General Hood provided these tips to help guard children against online child predators:

  • Talk to your child about their activities online and caution them not to share certain information over the internet.
  • Be familiar with popular chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook and always maintain access to your child’s online account.
  • Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line and show them how to delete and/or block harmful e-mails, photos or messages.
  • Keep computers in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom, and consider instituting a “media curfew” limiting the time they can use the computer or internet.
  • Report abuses or threats to the Attorney General’s office and your internet service provider.

Anyone needing to report a cyber crime can call the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit at (601) 576-4281.  For more cyber crime tips and information about the ICAC Task Force and Attorney General Hood’s continuing efforts to crack down on sexual predators, visit www.agjimhood.com.


Attorney General Jim Hood Announces Mississippi to Receive $150 Million Economic Damages Payment from BP

June 30, 2016
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The state of Mississippi is expected to receive $150 million from BP on Friday, representing the oil company’s first payment for economic damages resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Attorney General Jim Hood announced today.

The payment comes three months after 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 approximately $2.2 billion in compensation from BP.

Attorney General Hood commended his staff and state agency employees for their years-long efforts to ensure Mississippi held BP accountable for its actions and that the state received appropriate compensation for economic recovery and coastal restoration.

Attorney General Hood said he remained committed to making sure that coastal counties and cities receive fair treatment from the settlement. As part of that commitment, Attorney General Hood reminded the Legislature that, despite a significant budget deficit, the $150 million in recoveries from BP should be directed for projects on the Coast. This initial payment – expected Friday and required to be delivered by BP no later than Sunday – is part of a total of $750 million for economic damages that Mississippi will receive over the next 17 years.

“After years of litigation and work to identify the economic damage caused by this catastrophe, we reached an agreement that would help to make our coastal communities whole again,” Attorney General Hood said. “However, I am deeply concerned that the state’s legislative leaders may use this payment to try to cover up their self-created budget hole.” 

Attorney General Hood noted that the Legislature has already earmarked approximately $46 million from the $150 million disbursement. Legislative leaders would do a disservice to their coastal constituents if they use that money to fund anything other than areas impacted by the spill, he said.

“Those who created this budget emergency by providing self-serving tax cuts to big business should not use this money to cover up their mess at the expense of our neighbors on the Coast,” Attorney General Hood said.

 

 


AG JIM HOOD ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH VOLKSWAGEN OVER EMISSIONS FRAUD- Mississippi to receive $2.5 million in compensation

June 28, 2016
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Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that Mississippi and 42 other states and jurisdictions have agreed to a $570 million settlement with Volkswagen over the automobile manufacturer’s sale of vehicles equipped with software designed to circumvent federal and state emissions standards.

Mississippi will receive $2.5 million. The agreement is among a series of state and federal settlements that provide cash payments to affected consumers and require Volkswagen to buy back or modify certain VW and Audi 2.0-liter diesel vehicles. More than 1,000 vehicles in Mississippi are covered in the settlement.

“Volkswagen lied to its customers and to the American people about the emissions levels in its diesel vehicles,” Attorney General Hood said. “The company’s actions harmed our environment, all in an attempt to skirt pollution standards and generate more profits. This settlement requires the company to pay consumers harmed by its scheme and institute environmental programs to offset the damage caused by its misrepresentations. I’m glad to have worked with a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general to reach this agreement.”

A multistate investigation confirmed that Volkswagen sold more than 570,000 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel vehicles in the United States equipped with “defeat device” software intended to circumvent applicable emissions standards for certain air pollutants. Volkswagen actively concealed the existence of the defeat device from regulators and the public. Volkswagen made false statements to consumers in their marketing and advertising, misrepresenting the cars as environmentally friendly or “green,” and stating that the cars were compliant with federal and state emissions standards, when, in fact, Volkswagen knew the vehicles emitted harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at rates many times higher than the law permitted.

Under today’s settlement, Volkswagen must institute a restitution and recall program for more than 475,000 owners and lessees of 2.0-liter diesel vehicles from model years 2009-2015. This includes 1,025 vehicles in Mississippi. Affected car owners will receive at least $5,100 in restitution from the company and a choice of a buyback of the vehicle or a modification to the vehicle that, if approved by regulators, would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Lessees and sellers who sold their affected vehicles after Sept. 18, 2015, will also be eligible for benefits and restitution.

In addition, Volkswagen must pay $2.7 billion to support environmental programs intended to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and mitigate the total excess emissions from the flawed VW vehicles. Volkswagen must also commit to invest $2 billion over the next decade to the development of nonpolluting cars known as Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEVs).

Today’s action resolves consumer protection claims raised by attorneys general against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Porsche AG and Porsche Cars, North America, Inc. – collectively referred to as Volkswagen. They also resolve actions against Volkswagen brought by the federal government, California and car owners in private class action suits.

For full details, visit VWCourtSettlement.com, ftc.gov/VWSettlement or the Attorney General’s web site, www.AGJimHood.com. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline is: (800) 281-4418.

The list of affected vehicles:

2.0 Liter Diesel Models

Model Year

(MY)

EPA Test Group Vehicle Make and Model(s)
2009 9VWXV02.035N
9VWXV02.0U5N
VW Jetta, VW Jetta Sportwagen
2010 AVWXV02.0U5N VW Golf, VW Jetta, VW Jetta Sportwagen, Audi A3
2011 BVWXV02.0U5N VW Golf, VW Jetta, VW Jetta Sportwagen, Audi A3
2012 CVWXV02.0U5N VW Golf, VW Jetta, VW Jetta Sportwagen, Audi A3
2013 DVWXV02.0U5N VW Beetle, VW Beetle Convertible, VW Golf, VW Jetta, VW Jetta Sportwagen, Audi A3
2014 EVWXV02.0U5N VW Beetle, VW Beetle Convertible, VW Golf, VW Jetta, VW Jetta Sportwagen
2012

2013

2014

CVWXV02.0U4S DVWXV02.0U4S EVWXV02.0U4S VW Passat
2015 FVGAV02.0VAL VW Beetle, VW Beetle Convertible, VW Golf, VW Golf Sportwagen, VW Jetta, VW Passat, Audi A3

 


Ridgeland Resident Going to Prison for Child Exploitation

June 28, 2016
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A Madison county man has been sentenced to prison for possessing child pornography, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

David Stough, 46, of Ridgeland, pleaded guilty to one count of child exploitation Monday before Madison County Circuit Judge John Emfinger. He was sentenced to 40 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with five years to serve and 5 years of post-release supervision.  Stough was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund and $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund.  Stough must also register as a sex offender.

Stough was arrested at his home Sept. 4, 2014, by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit/Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, with assistance from the Ridgeland Police Department, an ICAC Task Force affiliate.  The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that Stough had downloaded numerous images of child pornography on his computer.

“Our attorneys and investigators worked diligently with the Ridgeland Police Department to ensure this man was convicted and off the streets,” Attorney General Hood said. “We will continue to focus all our resources, including advanced computer hardware and software, to seek out and find child predators and bring them to justice. We thank Judge Emfinger for this sentence.”

“The relationship that exists between these agencies to come together and work hand in hand throughout an investigation into these predators is of most importance for a successful prosecution,” Ridgeland Chief of Police John R. Neal said.  “The Ridgeland Police Department is fortunate to have a partnership with General Hood and the agents of the ICAC Task Force to work diligently in building these cases. The sentence imposed should send a message that law enforcement in Mississippi takes these crimes very seriously and will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”

This case was prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn of the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Division.

 


Former Deputy Clerk of Hinds County Justice Court Arrested for Alleged Extortion

June 27, 2016
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A former Hinds County employee has been arrested for extortion, accused of accepting an unlawful payment while she worked as a deputy clerk for the Hinds County Justice Court, Attorney General Jim Hood announced.

Lakisa Renee Schuller, 38, of Clinton, was arrested last week by deputies of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office following the indictment by a Hinds County Grand Jury for one count of Extortion by Collecting Unauthorized Fees.  Schuller was booked into the Hinds County Jail then released on a $5,000 bond.

Schuller is accused of collecting $800 from a citizen as a monetary fee to clear/remove a civil judgement from his record. The unauthorized fee that Schuller allegedly collected was in violation of Mississippi Code Section 97-11-33.

The maximum sentence for extortion by a public official is five years in prison or a fine of $5,000 on each count and the public official shall be removed from office.

As with all cases, 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.

Investigators Christopher Watkins and Larry Ware of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division investigated the case.  Assistant Attorney General Stan Alexander will prosecute the case.

 


Former Madison County Judge Sentenced for Simple Assault

June 22, 2016
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A former Madison County Judge was sentenced today for simple assault, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Former Madison County Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger, 58, of Madison, appeared before Senior Status Judge L. Breland Hilburn in Madison County Circuit Court, pleading guilty to misdemeanor simple assault. Weisenberger was accused of striking an individual in the head in an incident at the Canton Flea Market in 2014.

Judge Hilburn sentenced Weisenberger to serve six months in the custody of the Madison County Jail with six months suspended, followed by three months of supervised probation and three months of unsupervised probation.  Additionally, Weisenberger was ordered to pay a $500 fine, $500 to the Crime Victims Fund and serve 100 hours of community service at Our Daily Bread in Canton. He agreed to never seek public office or work in law enforcement again.

“Today’s sentence represents the final chapter in a very unfortunate and unusual case,” Attorney General Hood said.  “I want to thank Judge Hilburn’s sentence and his order to the defendant to serve community service hours.  We also sincerely appreciated working with the victim and his family in their pursuit of justice.”

Weisenberger was arrested in February 2015 following an indictment by a Madison County Grand Jury.  In April 2015, he was suspended from his position by the Mississippi Supreme Court. He later lost a re-election bid.

The case was investigated by Perry Tate and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Stan Alexander of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division, following recusal by the Madison County District Attorney’s Office.


Hinds County District Attorney Arrested, Accused of Illegally Consulting Criminal Defendants

June 22, 2016
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Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith was arrested today following a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the FBI into allegations that Smith illegally advised or defended individuals charged with crimes, Attorney General Jim Hood announced today.

Smith, 45, of Jackson, was arrested at his office by investigators with the Attorney General’s Office and the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office. Smith was charged with six counts of violating Mississippi Code Section 97-11-3, a misdemeanor. That law states that the attorney general or district attorney shall not “consult, advise, counsel or defend” a person charged with a crime or misdemeanor.

The joint investigation between the Attorney General’s Office and FBI revealed that Smith violated Mississippi law related to his involvement with two different criminal defendants while serving as district attorney.

Smith was booked into the Hinds County Jail and released on his own recognizance. If convicted, Smith could be removed as district attorney and prohibited from holding any other elected office or government position. Additionally, he faces a $500 fine.

“It is particularly sad to have to prosecute and seek removal from office a fellow prosecutor,” said Attorney General Jim Hood.  “We greatly appreciate the hard work of the FBI on this case, and we hope to resolve this as soon as possible.”

“Those who are sworn to uphold the law are not above the law,” said Donald Alway, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Mississippi. “Though today’s charges are only allegations, public corruption poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life. It impacts everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected…to verdicts handed down in courts. The FBI appreciates the close cooperation on this matter with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.”

As with all cases, 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.

The FBI requests that anyone with information on other corruption matters contact the FBI Jackson office at (601) 948-5000.