Jackson Woman Indicted for Second Time for Exploitation of Vulnerable Person

June 2, 2016
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Pebbles WrightJACKSON – A Jackson woman indicted last September for felony exploitation of a vulnerable person has been indicted again for exploitation in a separate case, Attorney General Jim Hood announced today.

Pebla Jones Wright, aka Pebbles Jones Wright, 49, was indicted by a Hinds County grand jury on one count of exploitation of a vulnerable person. The new indictment is in addition to one from 2015 charging Wright with exploitation and attempted exploitation.

Wright is the owner of a retirement and assisted living facility in Jackson. The indictment alleges that she took more than $250 from a vulnerable person in her care and used the funds for her personal benefit. In 2015, she was accused of taking more than $12,000 from another vulnerable person and attempting to take an additional $2,900.

She was arraigned on the new charge Tuesday during a hearing related to the 2015 indictment. Judge William Gowan set a hearing for June 10 on whether to revoke bond for Wright based on the new indictment.

If convicted of the additional charge, Wright faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 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.

The case is being investigated by Arthur Kendricks and Auditor Gilda Reyes and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Sue Perry of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.


Deceptive “Phishing” Schemes Target Consumers

June 1, 2016
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JACKSON – As criminals find new ways to commit identity theft and fraud, Attorney General Jim Hood today urged Mississippi consumers to use caution when receiving an email or text message that initially looks likes legitimate correspondence from a bank or business.

The reminder comes at the same time some consumers were targets of an email purported to be from a Memphis-based financial institution that in fact was an attempt by scammers to gain access to banking information. As with similar efforts to elicit sensitive personal and financial data from consumers in a practice commonly known as “phishing,” the scammers in this latest email ruse stole company letterhead and used language in the email that initially makes it appear that the customer is being contacted by the institution. However, a closer look shows that the email is illegitimate.

Attorney General Hood advised consumers to reach out to their banks or credit unions directly to double-check the validity of unsolicited emails. 

“As we rely more and more on technology in our daily lives, scammers respond with increasingly sophisticated ways to use technology to cheat and steal,” Attorney General Hood said. “Fortunately, there are often some red flags that can help consumers spot these brazen attempts at fraud and identity theft.” 

For instance, in the recent email claiming to be from the Memphis financial institution, there were some grammatical errors and the message font was inconsistent. The message even made reference to a different bank and different time zone. In an attempt to assure recipients, the message also had language warning consumers of the dangers of spam email – which is exactly what this email was.    

Even if the content of a message sounds reasonable or convincing, Attorney General Hood encourages consumers check for errors and also follow these recommendations:

*Never provide personal or financial information in response to any unsolicited email or text. In fact, it is best to delete those solicitations and not respond.

*Keep in mind that financial institutions themselves will not seek to “verify” such information as bank account or credit card numbers since that particular information is generated and maintained by the institution itself. 

*Do not open links or attachments on any unsolicited emails or text messages that request personal, financial or account information.  It is likely that such links and attachments lead to viruses and malware designed to steal data.

*Always be suspicious of anyone that emails or sends a text message and asks for money to be wired or placed on a prepaid debit card. Chances are, those are scammers, especially if they’re located outside the United States. 

Consumers who receive suspicious emails or text messages may want to contact the business supposedly sending the message to let the business know that their name is being fraudulently used in a phishing attempt. 

Consumers who have provided information in response to a phishing scam should contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office at (800) 281-4418.  

For more information about how to guard against identity theft and scams, visit the Attorney General’s website: http://www.ago.state.ms.us/victims/identity-theft/



Mississippi Supreme Court upholds $30 Million Judgment against Sandoz

May 26, 2016
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Attorney General Jim Hood today applauded the Mississippi Supreme Court’s refusal to reconsider its October 2015 decision that affirmed a verdict of $30 million against pharmaceutical company Sandoz Inc.

“It is reassuring to know that when a big drug company like Sandoz cheats the taxpayers, justice will prevail,” Attorney General Hood said. “The court made the right decision to turn back a greedy corporation that focused on its own profits at the expense of the people of Mississippi.”

This case came to the Mississippi Supreme Court following a 9-day bench trial in Rankin County Chancery Court. Chancellor Tom Zebert concluded that Sandoz defrauded Mississippi, and cost taxpayers $24 million when it reported Average Wholesale Prices, or AWPs, which grossly exceeded the actual prices Sandoz charged its customers.

Those manipulated prices caused the state to pay more for prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients. As a result of this fraud, the trial court awarded the state compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages.

The case against Sandoz was among dozens of similar cases brought against other drug companies that also manipulated their reported AWPs so that Mississippi paid too much for prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients. In addition to this verdict, Attorney General Hood’s efforts in similar cases have resulted in Mississippi recovering over $170 million against 61 other drug companies.

Attorney General Hood Statement on Texas Lawsuit

May 26, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood issued the following statement today regarding the lawsuit by Texas and 10 other states:

In November 2015, our office joined an amicus brief filed by South Carolina and other states in support of an appeal to the Fourth Circuit by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  In that brief, I took the position that due to the administration problems in K-12 schools, that the Fourth Circuit should defer to the judgment of the local Virginia school board in its decision to protect students’ privacy and safety by requiring students to use the bathroom assigned to their birth sex in addition to providing access to unisex restrooms. As a result of my father having been a school board attorney for over 45 years, I am aware of the problems K-12 school administrators face and prefer to defer to their expertise and judgment.

The three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit in a 2 -1 decision instead deferred to a federal agency’s interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, requiring that secondary school students be allowed to choose the restroom or locker room of their gender identity.  The court did not decide the issue on constitutional grounds of Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment.  Consequently, the court did not declare that these students had a constitutional right, but that schools faced federal funding cuts under Title IX.  The school district has asked the full Fourth Circuit court to now review the matter.

Instead of allowing this case to proceed through the court system, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a “guidance letter” which lacks the force of law, but which advises state departments of education that they may lose federal funds under Title IX if they do not allow transgender students to choose to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. This letter has created a public fervor.  I suspect transgender people have been using the restrooms of their gender identity for many decades.  This activity by a small percentage of people has gone virtually unnoticed by our society for probably a century.  Nevertheless, the issue has now been placed before our courts.

The Texas AG has filed a broad suit against several federal agencies.  Gov. Bryant has now joined the suit on behalf of his office, but not the state. Only the attorney general can represent the State of Mississippi in court.  Since the state is already involved in the aforementioned Fourth Circuit litigation, I chose not to join the state of Texas. In addition, I had concerns on issues of standing in the Texas case because no money has been withheld from a school. Moreover, I have a different legal opinion as to how the U.S. Supreme Court will finally decide the issue.

I believe that the panel of the Fourth Circuit erred in deferring to the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. During this era, gender identity was not contemplated in the definition of sex.  I think that the two judges on the Fourth Circuit panel erred in expanding the definition of sex to include gender identification.  Any expansion of the definition of sex in Title IX to include gender identification, should be left to Congress.

The Texas litigation is not as nuanced.  As a practical matter, there has been no enforcement action brought by the federal government against a Mississippi school. Hence, I will continue to support the states in the Fourth Circuit appeals process.  If the U. S. Department of Education attempts to withhold money from a Mississippi school, I will take the appropriate action at that time.

12 Illegal Immigrants Arrested for Fraudulent Use of Identity and Violating the Mississippi Employment Protection Act

May 26, 2016
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Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that 12 undocumented immigrants working for a Flora-based construction company were arrested this week for fraudulent use of identity and violations of the Mississippi Employment Protection Act.

The 12 illegal immigrants were arrested at construction sites in Jackson following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, as part of the federal Homeland Security Investigations Task Force. The 12, who were employed by Bonds and Associates, were booked into the Madison County Jail.  They are each charged with one count of fraudulent use of identity and one count of violating the Mississippi Employment Protection Act.

The 12 men arrested were:

Jose Cornelio – Romero, 30, of Jackson

Hector A. Garcia, 33, of Jackson

Juan Carlos Landaverde, 44, of Ridgeland

Ramiro Maldonado – Trejo, 24, of Jackson

Luis Fernado Medina- Mora, 25, of Ridgeland

Rodrigo Medina- Mora, 34, of Ridgeland, MS

Estaban Nava, 46, of Jackson

Leodegario Pelcastre – Perez, 33, of Ridgeland

Amador Pelcastre-Perez, 25, of Ridgeland

Jacinto Rebolledo – Rebolledo, 38, of Jackson

Victor Sedano – Reyes, 31, of Jackson

Edilberto Reyes-Sedano, 22, of Jackson

Following the resolution of the state charges, the defendants are to be released into the custody of federal immigration officials.  As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case was investigated by Bo Luckey with the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division, assigned to the HSI Task Force. The case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Shaun Yurtkuran.


Simpson County Woman Going to Jail for Abusing a Vulnerable Person

May 25, 2016
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Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Simpson County woman was sentenced to prison for violently attacking and injuring a juvenile.

Latrice Jackson, 29, was sentenced by Simpson County Circuit Court Judge Eddie Bowen Tuesday following a recent verdict finding Jackson guilty of one count of abuse of a vulnerable person.  Judge Bowen sentenced Jackson to serve 20 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with five years suspended and 15 years to serve, followed by five years of post-release supervision.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit uncovered that the defendant grabbed the victim by her hair and dragged her down a hallway, ripping a substantial amount of hair out of the victim’s head. The victim was 17 at the time.

“This type of abuse is unconscionable, and we appreciate the strong message this sentence sends to others who may consider hurting Mississippi’s vulnerable citizens,” Attorney General Hood said. “We thank Judge Bowen for this strong sentence, and my office is committed to investigating instances of abuse and neglect of vulnerable individuals.”

This case was investigated by John David Flowers and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorneys General Treasure Tyson and Katie Moulds with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.


Hinds County Care Giver Charged for Felony Exploitation of a Vulnerable Person

May 23, 2016
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Dianna Hodge

Dianna Hodge

Dianna Hodge, 36, of Jackson, was arrested today and accused of illegally writing more than $22,100 in checks on the account of an elderly woman for whom she was a caregiver, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Hodge was arrested following the indictment by a Hinds County grand jury for one count of Felonious Exploitation of a Vulnerable Person.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Vulnerable Adult Unit uncovered that Hodge allegedly wrote a total amount of $22,180 in checks while acting as a caregiver to a vulnerable woman who was not able to perform or provide care for herself.  Hodge is accused of writing the checks without the consent of the victim and converting the money to her own use.

The defendant was booked into the Hinds County Jail and is awaiting bond to be set by judge.  If convicted, Hodge faces up to 10 years behind bars and a $10,000 fine. As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Hodge was arrested at her home by investigators with the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division with assistance from deputies of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department.  The case is being investigated by Jamie Patrick and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Marvin Sanders of the Attorney General’s Vulnerable Adult Unit.

Tunica Man Going to Prison for False Pretense

May 19, 2016
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C. Island

Chester Island

Chester Island, 25, of Tunica, is going to prison for stealing more than $27,000 from his father’s retirement account, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Island pleaded guilty to one count of false pretense today before Panola County Circuit Court Judge Smith Murphey.  Judge Murphey sentenced Island to serve 10 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with five years to serve and five years suspended.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division uncovered that Island submitted false paperwork to the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi and stole more than $27,000 from his father’s retirement account.  Judge Murphey ordered Island to pay full restitution to his father while serving five years of post-release supervision following his time behind bars. Island was ordered to pay a $100 assessment to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

“This defendant scammed his own father for personal gain, which is not only reprehensible but will not be tolerated in our state,” said Attorney General Hood.  “We thank Judge Smith Murphey for his strong sentence and for ordering the defendant to pay back what he took from his father.”

The case was investigated by Perry Tate and prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Stan Alexander of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division.