Rankin County Resident Going to Prison for Child Exploitation

November 19, 2015

Willard Geven Knight, 24, of Pearl, has been sentenced for possessing child pornography, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Knight appeared before Rankin County Circuit Court Judge William E. Chapman III on Wednesday and pled guilty to one count of child exploitation. Judge Chapman sentenced Knight to 40 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with five years to serve, 35 years suspended and five years of post-release supervision. Knight must also pay $1,000 to the children’s trust fund, $1,000 to the crime victim’s compensation fund and register as a sex offender.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit/Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force uncovered that Knight was downloading and sharing numerous videos of child pornography over the internet.

“Our first priority is our children and with the innovations and vigilance of our task force members to this type of deviant behavior by these predators, we are holding them accountable for their criminal activity,” said Attorney General Hood.

The case was investigated by the Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit/Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Brandon Ogburn.


Jefferson County Jail Inmate Arrested for Fraudulent Prison Scam

November 18, 2015

A six-month long investigation into a prison scam led to the arrest of a Jefferson County jail inmate on charges of  false pretense, announced Attorney General Jim Hood today.

An Attorney General’s Office investigation revealed that Jerbarius Neal, 24, of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, was the mastermind behind a jailhouse scam which preyed upon families of incarcerated people.  Neal, who is serving 30 years in jail for burglary and larceny charges, is charged with offering inmates’ families a chance to secure early release for their loved ones by paying money into a fraudulent State of Mississippi program.  Neal allegedly contacted inmates’ families by using a smuggled cell phone.  He claimed to be one of several public officials, including a statewide elected official (not the Attorney General), State Representative Gregg Holloway and a federal judge.  While posing as a public official, Neal is accused of offering to provide early release, or a way to avoid prison time, in exchange for payment.  Neal allegedly arranged to have individuals meet the victim to pick up the cash or money orders.  During one of these meetings, a victim, who paid money to have his father entered into the fraudulent program, videoed Neal’s co-conspirator picking up the money. 

Tiffany McVane, age 37, of Hazlehurst, was recently arrested by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office as a co-conspirator in this same case. McVane is accused of picking up $5,000 cash from a victim.  The victim believed the money would secure early release for an incarcerated family member.

If convicted, Neal and McVane face up to five years in prison on each count and up to a $10,000 fine per count.

Law Enforcement agents from the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division, the Mississippi Department of Corrections, the Hazlehurst Police Department, the Copiah County Sherriff’s Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office worked on the investigation that lead to the arrest of Neal and McVane.

This case is being investigated by Mississippi Attorney General’s Office Investigator Lee McDivitt and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Patrick Beasley and Shawn Yurtkuran of the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division.

Additional arrests are expected as the investigation continues in this case.  If anyone has been a victim of this type of scam or has information about the scam, please call the Attorney General’s Office at 1 (800) 281-4418.

 


EDMC to Change Practices, Forgive Loans through Agreement with Attorney General Jim Hood and State Attorneys General

November 16, 2015

For-profit education company Education Management Corporation (EDMC) will significantly reform its recruiting and enrollment practices, and forgive more than $1,229,321 in loans for approximately 1,358 Mississippi former students, through an agreement with Attorney General Hood and a group of state attorneys general.

EDMC, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, operates 110 schools in 32 states and Canada through four education systems, including Argosy University, The Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College and South University.

The agreement with attorneys general in 39 states plus the District of Columbia, through a lawsuit filed in Hinds County Chancery Clerk, First Judicial District, mandates added disclosures to students, including a new interactive online financial disclosure tool; bars misrepresentations to prospective students; prohibits enrollment in unaccredited programs; and institutes an extended period when new students can withdraw with no financial obligation.

Nationwide, the agreement requires the for-profit college company to forgive $102.8 million in outstanding loan debt held by more than 80,000 former students.

Thomas Perrelli, former U.S. Associate Attorney General, will independently monitor the company’s settlement compliance for three years and issue annual reports.

Interactive Financial Disclosure Tool

The agreement will put in place a significant interactive online financial disclosure tool required for all prospective students who utilize federal student aid or loans. The impending online system, called the Electronic Financial Impact Platform (EFIP), is currently under the final stages of development by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and state attorneys general.

Based on a prospective student’s individual data, EFIP will produce a detailed financial report that includes the student’s projected financial commitment, living expenses and potential future earnings.

“This civil enforcement action holds EDMC accountable for what we allege were unfair and deceptive recruitment and enrollment practices,” said Attorney General Hood. “EDMC’s practices were unfair to our state’s students, and they were also unfair to our nation’s taxpayers who backed many of these federal student loans that were destined to fail,” Attorney General Hood added. “This is a rigorous agreement that not only provides some relief to a large number of former students through loan forgiveness, but helps ensure that the company will make substantial changes to its business practices for future students.”

Consumer Complaints, Multistate Investigation

After receiving numerous complaints from current and former EDMC students, state attorneys general initiated a multistate investigation in January of last year. Attorneys and investigators reviewed consumer complaints, reviewed company documents, and interviewed former EDMC employees.

“Our investigation gave us a pretty clear picture of how EDMC lured prospective students into its programs, and how many students left the program with unfulfilled promises and oftentimes tremendous debt,” said Attorney General Hood. “We think this agreement addresses our biggest concerns about the company’s business practices and puts in place new transparency and accountability.”

As part of the agreement, EDMC does not admit to the conduct alleged by attorneys general.

Agreement Highlights

Under the agreement, EDMC must:

  • Not make misrepresentations concerning accreditation, selectivity, graduation rates, placement rates, transferability of credit, financial aid, veterans’ benefits, and licensure requirements. EDMC shall not engage in deceptive or abusive recruiting practices and shall record online chats and telephone calls with prospective students.
  • Provide a single-page disclosure to each prospective student that includes the student’s anticipated total cost, median debt for those who complete the program, the default rate for those enrolled in the same program, warning about the unlikelihood that credits from some EDMC schools will transfer to other institutions, the median earnings for those who complete the program, and the job placement rate.
  • Require every prospective student utilizing federal student loans or financial aid to submit information to the interactive Electronic Financial Impact Platform (EFIP) in order to obtain a personalized picture of the student’s projected education program costs, estimated debt burden and expected post-graduate income.
  • Reform its job placement rate calculations and disclosures to provide more accurate information about students’ likelihood of obtaining sustainable employment in their chosen career.
  • Not enroll students in programs that do not lead to state licensure when required for employment or that, due to lack of accreditation, will not prepare graduates for jobs in their field.
  • Require incoming undergraduate students with fewer than 24 credits to complete an orientation program prior to their first class.
  • Permit incoming undergraduate students at ground campuses to withdraw within seven days of the beginning of the term or first day of class (whichever is later) without incurring any cost.
  • Permit incoming undergraduate students in online programs with fewer than 24 online credits to withdraw within 21 days of the beginning of the term without incurring any cost.
  • Require that its lead vendors, which are companies that place website or pop-up ads urging consumers to consider new educational or career opportunities, agree to certain compliance standards. Lead vendors shall be prohibited from making misrepresentations about federal financing, including describing loans as grants or “free money;” sharing student information without their consent; or implying that educational opportunities are, in fact, employment opportunities.

Relief Eligibility

Those who will receive automatic relief related to outstanding EDMC institutional loans must have been enrolled in an EDMC program with fewer than 24 transfer credits; withdrew within 45 days of the first day of their first term; and their final day of attendance must have been between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2014.

The agreement is expected to provide an average of $1,370 per person in loan forgiveness.

Separate Resolution of Federal False Claims Lawsuit

Today, EDMC also agrees to pay a $95 million settlement of a separate federal whistleblower lawsuit under the False Claims Act. In that case, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Department of Education, the government alleged that EDMC illegally paid incentive-based compensation to its admissions recruiters tied to the number of students they recruit.


Rolling Fork Man Indicted on Four Felonious Fraud Charges

November 13, 2015

Eldridge Walker, of Rolling Fork, is facing felony charges following a four count indictment by a Hinds County Grand Jury, confirmed Attorney General Jim Hood.

Walker was recently arrested by investigators with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Walker is charged with false pretense, conspiracy to commit false pretense, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Walker is alleged in the indictment to have, while doing businesses as Walker Construction, submitted a false invoice concerning alleged work at the home of a Rolling Fork resident “with intent to defraud Federal Home Loan Bank.”  

Walker was booked into the Hinds County jail. If convicted of all charges, the defendant faces up to 20 years behind bars.  As with all cases, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case is being investigated by Investigator Bo Luckey and will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Patrick Beasley of the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division.

 


Adams County Woman Going to Prison for Exploitation of Vulnerable Person

November 10, 2015

Evelyn Whatley, 59, of Natchez, has been sentenced after she admitted to taking $43,980 from a vulnerable woman in her care, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Whatley appeared before Judge Forrest A. Johnson in Adams County Circuit Court on Monday and plead guilty to one count of exploitation of a vulnerable person. Judge Johnson sentenced Whatley to six years in custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, five years suspended with one year to serve and five years of post-release supervision.  She was also ordered to pay the full restitution of $43,980 to the victim.

At the time crimes were committed, Whatley was hired to be the caretaker of the victim.  Following the death of the victim earlier this year, a close relative discovered several suspicious ATM transactions from two of the victim’s bank accounts. The investigation uncovered approximately 114 unauthorized transactions made by Whatley totaling $43,980. Several transactions were made after the death of victim.

“This case is a good example of why it is so important to look after your loved ones accounts and report discrepancies,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “There is no tolerance in this state for such abuse and our office is deeply committed to protecting our state’s most vulnerable residents. We will continue to prosecute anyone doing them harm as well as make them pay back what they took.”

The case was investigated by Russell Frazier of the Attorney General’s Vulnerable Adult Unit and prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorneys General Larry Baker and Rachel Emfinger.

 


Meridian Direct Care Worker of State Hospital Arrested for Sexual Battery of a Vulnerable Person

November 9, 2015

LaCarlos Presswood, 35, of Meridian, has been arrested for sexual battery of a vulnerable person while employed as a Direct Care Worker of a state hospital, announced Attorney General Jim Hood.

Presswood turned himself in to Investigators of the Attorney General’s Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit today following an indictment by a Lauderdale County Grand Jury for one count of sexual battery of a vulnerable person.

The indictment alleges Presswood “willfully, unlawfully and feloniously engaged in sexual penetration with a vulnerable adult, as defined in §43-47-5 (q), of the Mississippi Code of 1972 Annotated, as amended, while being an employee of the health care facility in which the victim was a patient or resident.” The victim is an adult male patient at East Mississippi State Hospital.

Presswood was booked in to the Lauderdale County jail where he is awaiting arraignment.  If convicted, he faces a maximum of 30 years in jail and $10,000 in fines. As with all cases, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case is being investigated by Trey Rogers of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Prosecution of the case will be handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Garland Lyell.

 


Attorney General Jim Hood Warns Mississippians of IRS Scammers Searching for their Next Victim

November 3, 2015

Attorney General Jim Hood wants to remind Mississippi consumers to remain cautious of tax-related phone scams.

Meredith Aldridge, Director of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division said, “These scammers continue to search for their next victim before, during and even after tax season.”

The scammers call claiming to be an agent for the IRS or the Federal Treasury Department.  The victim is told “this is their Official Final Notice – the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you”.  He or she “owes money to the IRS” and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, the scammer threatens the victim with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license.

Victims may even be told they have a refund in an effort to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request. These con artists are intimidating and sound convincing, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may even know a lot about their targets, and they may even alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Director Aldridge, warns consumers not to fall victim to these con artists or others like them. “The answer is simple for this and other similar phone scams.  Do not share or verify any personal information over the phone.  If it sounds too good to be true or is suspicious, don’t take the action requested.”

Attorney General Hood offers the following information and tips to avoid these type scams:

THE IRS WILL NEVER —

  • Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, or request that you wire a payment.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds.

If you know YOU OWE taxes or think you might owe the IRS any amount, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

If you know you DON’T OWE taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-­366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.

Follow these KEY TIPS for this scam and others similar to it:

  • DO NOT answer the phone for a number you do not recognize or that shows up as your own.
  • If you do answer, HANG UP the minute you realize it is a scam. Even answering simple questions in the affirmative or negative could be used to try to scam you.
  • BE SUSPICIOUS of anyone who is vague in identifying themselves on the phone.
  • NEVER wire or send money in any form to persons or organizations you do not know.
  • ALWAYS protect your personally identifiable information.  Giving out personal information out could cause you to become a victim of identity theft.

For more educational information on this and other scams, please visit the Consumer Protection Division section of the Attorney General’s website at www.agjimhood.com. Anyone who suspects their personal information has been compromised or thinks they have been a victim of fraud, identity theft or any other should call the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office for further assistance and guidance at 1-800-281-4418.


Mississippi Death Row Inmate Loses Appeal to Supreme Court

November 2, 2015

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal for Mississippi Death Row Inmate Thomas Loden, Jr.  Loden appealed his case claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.  Today’s decision represents Loden’s final opportunity to appeal his case. 

Today’s decision should have been the final hurdle before the State sets an execution date for Loden, however, on August 25, 2015, in a short written order, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, issued an injunction against any executions by lethal injection in the State of Mississippi.  This hasty decision by the District Court has enjoined the State from using the very same lethal injection drug protocol recently approved by the United States Supreme Court on June 20, 2015 in the case of Glossip v. Gross, 135 S. Ct. 2726.  The District Court also enjoined the State from executing an inmate by any other alternative means. 

Attorney General Jim Hood said, “I applaud the United States Supreme Court, and I am sorry that justice for the victims families must be delayed yet again.  Today’s decision should have brought this case to a quick close with a scheduled execution date.”

“We have appealed the injunction which stopped all executions in Mississippi,” said Attorney General Hood, “Thomas Loden, savagely raped and tortured a teenage girl; he video-taped his acts, and then strangled her to death.  The moment this injunction is lifted and executions resume, I will file to set an execution date for Loden.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled an oral argument for December 2, 2015 in the joint case involving  Richard Gerald Jordan, Ricky Chase, and Thomas Loden, Jr., in which executions were halted.