AG Hood Asks Supreme Court to Provide Level Playing Field For Mississippi Merchants

November 7, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that Mississippi and 10 other states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a 1992 decision that effectively prohibited states from implementing sales taxes on online purchases.

In an amicus curiae brief, Attorney General Hood and other state attorneys general encouraged the court to hear arguments in Brohl v. Direct Marketing Association and reconsider a 1992 ruling that requires a business to have a physical presence in a state before states may collect sales and use taxes from that business.  With the remarkable increase in online shopping, the physical-presence requirement has placed local retailers at a disadvantage and thwarted states from collecting revenue that could have supported important government services.

“More and more, the marketplace is moving from Main Street to the Information Superhighway, and our local merchants are at an unfortunate disadvantage,” Attorney General Hood said. “If local stores are unable to compete with out-of-state online retailers, we lose jobs, an important tax base and a critical investment in our communities. We’re asking the Supreme Court to even the playing field for merchants and to allow the states to gain the revenue that should be due to them.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce sales for U.S. retailers were about $300 billion in 2014 and e-commerce accounted for nearly 7 percent of all retail sales that year. Online sales were up more than 15 percent from the previous year, a trend expected to continue since most Americans own smartphones that often come preloaded with online shopping apps.

Retailers have argued against sales taxes on goods purchased online, stating that calculating thousands of tax rates based on a consumer’s location would be too great a burden. However, the states argue in their brief there is readily available software that can easily calculate tax on any sale.

Attorney General Hood said a sales tax on online purchases would especially benefit Mississippi because ongoing budget problems have led to layoffs and service reductions across state government. Attorney General Hood called on the Legislature to enact an Internet sales tax to help balance the budget and support local merchants.

“At least 13 states now have laws to levy sales taxes on purchases through third-party affiliates like Amazon, for example,” Attorney General Hood said. “Courts in New York have upheld this type of tax, and I will be asking the Legislature to stand up for our local businesses and adopt a similar tax next year. I also remain hopeful that the brief we filed today will move the Supreme Court toward opening the door for states to collect sales tax on all Internet sales.”

Click here for a copy of the Brohl v. Direct Marketing Association amicus curiae brief.

 


Former Cleveland Police Officer Sentenced for Extortion

November 3, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that former Cleveland police officer has been sentenced for extortion.

Melvin Sparks, 47, of Cleveland, appeared today before Bolivar County Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Webster and entered an open plea to extortion by a public official. An open plea means the defendant refuses to accept the state’s recommendation and instead throws himself or herself at the mercy of the court. As a result, Judge Webster sentenced Sparks to serve three years in prison, with all three of those years suspended. Additionally, Sparks was ordered to pay $500 to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund and a $1,500 fine.  Judge Webster also ordered Sparks to serve three years of supervised probation.

Sparks turned himself in to the Bolivar County Sheriff’s Office last October following his indictment by a Bolivar County Grand Jury. While on duty as a police officer, Sparks accepted money from a citizen on the pretense of “fixing” a ticket.

“Public servants should be held to the highest standard, and they are expected to uphold the law, not to break it,” Attorney General Jim Hood said. “I am glad that this individual has been brought to justice and that he is no longer in a position to take advantage of citizens.”

The case was investigated by Jerry Spell and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division.

 


Belzoni Resident Going to Prison for Child Exploitation

November 2, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Humphreys County man is going to prison for possessing child pornography.

Leroy Bowman, 26, of Belzoni, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of child exploitation before Humphreys County Circuit Court Judge Jannie M. Lewis. Bowman was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 30 of those years suspended, leaving 10 years to serve, followed by five years of post-release supervision. Additionally, Bowman was ordered to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund and $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

Bowman was arrested in May 2015 at his home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit with assistance from the FBI Child Exploitation Unit and the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Department. It was discovered through an investigation that Bowman was in possession of electronic media which contained child sexual exploitation images.

“Any person who seeks to rob a child of his or her innocence by owning, producing or distributing heinous material that perpetrates the cycle of child exploitation deserves to be put behind bars,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “I’d like to thank the prosecutors and investigators from my office, the FBI and the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Department who worked tirelessly to put this man away and who are dedicated to apprehending child predators across Mississippi. I also appreciate Judge Lewis for the strong message this sends to anyone who engages in this kind of criminal behavior.”

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


Jackson Man Going to Prison for Possession of Marijuana and Crack Cocaine

November 2, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Jackson man is going to prison for possessing marijuana and crack cocaine.

Kenneth Keith Beal, 41, of Jackson, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of possession of marijuana and one count of possession of cocaine before Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill, Sr. Beal was arrested in September 2013 following the execution of a search warrant of his room in which a marijuana and crack cocaine rocks were recovered.

Beal was sentenced to serve six years in prison for possessing marijuana with one of those years suspended, leaving five years to serve. Beal must also serve 15 years in prison for possessing cocaine with ten of those years suspended and five years to serve. Those five years are to run concurrently with the other prison sentence, leaving a total of five years for Beal to serve behind bars. Additionally, Beal was sentenced to three years of post-release supervision and was ordered to seek mandatory alcohol and drug treatment.

“Our responsibility as law enforcement officials is to ensure that our communities are safe,” Attorney General Jim Hood said. “I appreciate the Jackson Police Department’s efforts in this case to take a drug offender off the streets and take another step toward improving the quality of life for our citizens. The arrest, prosecution and sentencing of this individual is another good example of how we can work collaboratively to get positive results for Mississippi.”

This case was investigated by the Jackson Police Department with assistance by Investigator Perry Tate of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division. Prosecution was handled by Special Assistant Attorneys General Marvin Sanders and Larry Baker after a recusal by the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office.


Attorney General Jim Hood Applauds U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision

October 31, 2016

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood today applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to hear arguments in a lawsuit between a Virginia public school board and a transgender student regarding which restrooms the transgender student is permitted to use.

Attorney General Hood joined amicus briefs in the court of appeals in November 2015 and in the petition for certiorari at the U. S. Supreme Court this summer stating that the courts should defer to the judgment of the local school board. That board argued that, in order to protect students’ privacy and safety, students were required to use restrooms based on their sex at birth, or use unisex restrooms.

“I am relieved that the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of resolving this dispute and am hopeful that it recognizes that schools need flexibility to make their own policy decisions based on each school’s own distinct needs and resources.  Since my father was a school board attorney for 45 years, I learned at the breakfast table how difficult it is to run schools on shoe-string budgets and to control and protect our children.” Attorney General Hood said.

In May, the Attorney General declined to join the lawsuit filed by Texas over the same types of issues, because the state of Mississippi had at that point already been active in the Virginia case for seven months.

“As I stated at the time, I believe the state’s litigation resources were better used to support the school district in Virginia in its effort to seek review from the Supreme Court rather than to file a new lawsuit in Texas,” Attorney General Hood said. “I believe this issue should be resolved as quickly as possible, and that these policy decisions should remain at the discretion of local schools and professional educators, who are better qualified than lawyers to make decisions under Title IX on these kinds of important issues.”

“The issue is to let local school boards decide whether the facilities and personnel are available to police the bathroom facilities from mischievous boys entering girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, not a federal agency. It is not to punish those who really believe they are the opposite sex than that which God gave them. If a school wants to have bathrooms available to either sex or establish a review process to ferret out pranksters, then the school boards should make those decisions based upon the location of the restroom and locker rooms and personnel.  This is not a case where a court has found that a transgender person has the constitutional right to go to whichever restroom they prefer. The U. S. Departments of Education and Justice are stretching the meaning of the word sex to mean the sex you think you should have been born with. When the word was written by Congress in 1972 and amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 prohibiting discrimination based on sex, I do not believe they were contemplating sex as being anything other than sex at birth.  Had the Congress intended differently, then it could have added different language. Although courts generally respect and allow deference to agencies interpreting statutes under their purview, I do not believe our U.S. Supreme Court will allow two federal agencies to coerce states into adopting their twisted definition of the word sex by cutting off federal funds to schools. 

“Sex has been determined on the basis of genitalia since the beginning of time.  I am sympathetic to people whose brain tells them their soul, personality and being are the opposite of the genitalia with which they were born.  If they prefer to dress and act like the opposite sex, I am sure it is awkward for them to have to go to a restroom opposite their dress.  However, others have rights to be considered and until the U. S. Supreme Court says people have a constitutional right to go to the restroom of their preference, a federal agency should not be allowed to substitute its opinion for local school boards who protect all of our children.”

 


Jackson Resident Arrested for Identity Theft and Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult

October 28, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Jackson woman has been arrested for identity theft and exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

Leslie Burkett, 28, of Jackson, turned herself into the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office Thursday following an indictment by a Rankin County grand jury for one count of fraud-identity theft and one count of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Burkett was booked into the Rankin County Jail with a bond set at $5,000.

The indictment accuses Burkett of stealing several debit cards belonging to patients of a Jackson nursing home and completing more than $1,000 of fraudulent transactions on these cards. Additionally, Burkett allegedly stole a diamond ring from a patient that had an estimated value of $8,000.

If convicted of both counts, Burkett faces up to 20 years in prison. 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.

This case is being investigated by Jake Windham will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Myrick Jackson of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.


Jackson Caregiver Arrested for Felony Exploitation of a Vulnerable Person

October 28, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Jackson caregiver has been arrested for felony exploitation of a vulnerable person. 

Theodora Smith, 51, of Jackson, turned herself into the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday following an indictment by a Rankin County grand jury for one count of felony exploitation of an incapacitated person. Smith was booked into the Rankin County Jail with a bond set at $5,000. 

The indictment alleges that in October 2015, Smith and two co-defendants illegally charged more than $250 to a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program card that belonged to a patient at the Jackson nursing home where Smith was employed.

If convicted, Smith faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. 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.

This case is being investigated by Jake Windham and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Katie Moulds of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.


Jefferson Davis Man Arrested for Child Exploitation

October 27, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Jefferson Davis County man has been arrested and charged with one count of child exploitation.

Christopher Morgan, 26, of Bassfield, was arrested Wednesday by investigators with the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit, with assistance from the Jefferson Davis County Sheriff’s Office. Morgan was booked into the Jefferson Davis County Detention Facility with no bond set and is awaiting his initial appearance.

Investigators executed a search warrant following an investigation of Morgan’s online activity. As a result of the search warrant, he was arrested.

If convicted, Morgan faces up to 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. 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.

This case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn of the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit.