John Doe and others are like Richard Nixon except in this case, the crime (allegations of NCAA recruiting violations) is as bad as the cover-up
The Ole Miss NCAA football violations saga continues. Part of the story almost seems like a soap opera. Apart from the NCAA process, perhaps the most soap-opera like part of the story in how some Ole Miss boosters involved in the alleged cheating are doing everything possible to avoid being publicly exposed. There’s little doubt public exposure would cause embarrassment, humiliation and possibly even worse for some prominent and, in some cases, well known Rebel alumni or boosters. On March 22, the WeidieReport filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request with Ole Miss for the names of any alumni or boosters who Ole Miss had disassociated from Rebel athletics because of the NCAA allegations. On May 3, the assistant general counsel at the school furnished me four letters sent to boosters notifying them of the decision to disassociate them from Ole Miss athletic programs. Shortly after that a reliable source informed me Ole Miss athletic officials had made five calls to boosters to inform them they also were being disassociated from Ole Miss athletics. The calls were reportedly made one evening and I was given four of the five names. Apparently, the individuals were not the same ones in the redacted letters. A John Doe filed action to stop the release of the names. The staff at the Mississippi Ethics Commission recommended names be released and apparently Ole Miss was going to comply. Ole Miss backed off giving the names pending the July 14 meeting of the Ethics Commission when the staff decision would be considered. Steve Robertson, Mississippi State beat writer for Scout.com, and blogger James Hendrix, took aggressive FOI action with the Ethics Commission. On July 14 members of the Ethics Commission ruled in favor of releasing the booster names and John Doe promptly filed legal action in Hind County against Ole Miss and the Ethics Commission to prevent them from making public the names of the boosters involved in the NCAA allegations (i.e. Ole Miss football cheating). If
Hinds County lawsuit shows at least one, and probably more Rebel boosters are nervous
Without question, some Ole Miss alumni and boosters are nervous about their names being made public in connection with their role in the NCAA allegations of illegal recruiting involving the football program. One booster, “John Doe” filed legal action against the University of Mississippi and the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). The suit was filed May 23 in the Hinds County Chancery Court and heard by Judge Denise Owen. “John Doe” sought to enjoin Ole Miss and IHL from publicly divulging his name in connection to allegations made against him regarding his involvement in football recruiting cheating. As the legal action was filed in Hinds County, it was not hard to surmise that “John Doe” is from the Jackson area. On March 22 the WeidieReport filed a Freedom of Information request with the University of Mississippi with a copy to the IHL commissioner. The request was for the names of any alumni/boosters Ole Miss had disassociated from the Rebel athletic programs as the result of the NCAA allegations. After several email exchanges and phone conversations, on May 3 the Assistant General Counsel at Ole Miss sent me a cover letter and copies of four letters that had been sent to alumni/boosters notifying them of the school’s decision to disassociate them from Ole Miss athletic programs. The names of the boosters, (a.k.a alleged cheaters) were redacted. I thought at the time the blacking out of the names in the letters was akin to changing the names to protect the guilty. Steve Robertson, who covers Mississippi State athletics for Scout.com, has been tenacious and like a bulldog, no pun intended, in digging into the NCAA allegations against the Ole Miss football program. When Robertson’s FOI request resulted in him receiving the same redacted booster names, Robertson filed a complaint with the toothless Mississippi Ethics Commission. And I emphasize the word “toothless.” It would have made more sense, but also been more costly, to file action in a chancery court to force Ole Miss to release the names of the
However, Congressman Thompson’s chief of staff won’t join the march – his weekends are spent in prison
I’m sure many Mississippians were thrilled earlier this week when it was announced that socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders would join the state’s own Congressman Bennie Thompson to march against Nissan on March 4. Unfortunately, since March 4 is a Saturday, Thompson’s chief of staff, Lanier Avant, will be unable to join Thompson, Sanders and radical actor Danny Glover at the protest. Avant, who has been Thompson’s chief of staff for more than 15 years, spends his weekends in federal prison. According to the Justice Department, Avant was sentenced to four months in prison for failing to file an individual federal income tax return for five years. It should be noted when he pled guilty, Avant acknowledged he “willfully” failed to file the tax returns. The Washington Examiner reported for each of those five years, Avant’s salary was more than $165,000 per year. Avant filed a form which claimed he was exempt from paying federal income taxes. If that excuse were not bogus, I worked for 14 years on Capital Hill and could have avoided significant tax liability. Avant is serving his time in an unusual manner. After serving 30 days of his sentence in jail, he serves the rest of his sentence for 12 months on weekends. The sickening part of this is even after his guilty plea and sentencing, Avant is still Thompson’s chief of staff. After he completes his prison time, he will be on probation for one year and have to pay $149,962 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
Why didn’t a certain newspaper report that Avant is spending his weekends in prison while he is still Bennie Thompson’s chief of staff?
Now, you may ask why isn’t the fact Avant is serving weekends in jail and is still Thompson’s chief of staff not been published in the state’s largest newspaper? The Clarion-Ledger had a report when Avant was charged with the crime and later reported
Morgan Shands pleads guilty and goes to prison
Prominent political operative Morgan Shands and his sister were indicted for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in March of 2014. His trial on the embezzlement charges from a bingo hall operated by an American Legion post in the Mississippi Delta was originally scheduled for early December 2014. After more than two and one-half years, Shands pled guilty to stealing $375,00, was sentenced to five years in prison and was immediately take into custody The original indictment charged Shands with embezzling almost $600,000. According to judicial guidelines, he might just serve half of the sentence. At a time when many feel politics is too partisan and civility is missing from political life, Shands had a strong non-partisan resume. At one time he was executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party and worked for Democrat incumbent attorney general Jim Hood and his Democrat predecessor, Mike Moore. In recent years, Shands had impressive Republican credentials. He worked for U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and State Auditor Stacey Pickering. Even earlier, in 2007, he was a key figure in the campaign of current Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. Shands’ most recent prominent political role was as campaign manager for then state Sen. Billy Hewes, now mayor of Gulfport, when Hewes made a strong Republican primary race for lieutenant governor against Tate Reeves in 2011. Even following his indictment in 2014, Shands had a minor role in Sen. Thad Cochran’s re-election campaign when Cochran was challenged in the GOP primary by state Sen. Chris McDaniel. At one time, it was widely rumored Shands was being encouraged to run for attorney general. How sad someone who was considered a very viable candidate to be the top law enforcement officer in the state is now in prison.
Public corruption is still far too common in Mississippi
As a side note, when it seemed the trial of Shands was stalled and not moving forward, I wrote several update posts after talking with the DA’s office and county officials in Bolivar County. A couple of people even indicated I was picking on Shands by publicly updating the status of his case. It was very legitimate news when one of the state’s most prominent political operatives embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Public corruption is still far too common in Mississippi.
Many fans of Mississippi State are very happy with every report about the NCAA investigation of Ole Miss. On the other side of the coin, Ole Miss Rebel fans are making hay about MSU’s response to the problems of State’s number one recruit, five-star rated Jeffery Simmons. A video of Simmons beating up on a woman went viral on the internet. But the issue took a political tone because social media comments by Clay Chandler, an Ole Miss grad, former reporter for The Clarion-Ledger and currently director of communications for Gov. Phil Bryant. Some may recall Mr. Chandler wrote many of the Clarion-Ledger’s stories dealing with the 9-2 vote of the college board not to renew the contract of former Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones. On social media last March, Chandler posted that the college board “fired a cancer patient.” Chandler, the son of former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice David Chandler, didn’t learn his lesson after his previous posts on social media. After Mississippi State finally made its decision about football star Simmons, Chandler went on a very critical Twitter rant about MSU’s decision. That might be expected of an Ole Miss alumnus, but it was very poor judgement on the part of a key member of Gov. Bryant’s staff. After a statewide furor, Chandler deleted his tasteless tweets about the Jeffrey Simmons matter. None the less, it had to be huge embarrassment for Gov. Bryant that one of his top staff members used such incredibly poor judgement. Bryant has a lot major contributors and supporters who are Mississippi State alumni. I’m confident that MSU President Mark Keenum and other State officials let Gov. Bryant know that Chandler’s comments were not appreciated and were certainly unprofessional by a member of Bryant’s staff.
What grade does MSU get for handling the Simmons matter?
After a long decision process, MSU announced that Simmons will be allowed to enroll in school and participate in football if certain conditions are met. State has been roundly criticized by most of the national media. Did State make a mistake in the final determination the university made regarding Simmons? You will hear very strong opinions on both sides of the matter. In my opinion, it is hard to fault the decision because it was MSU that gathered all the facts in the Simmons case before allowing his enrollment. However, a couple of assumptions seem very reasonable. If Simmons meets all other conditions of his admittance to State, he will only miss the season opener against South Alabama. Give me a break. Even if Simmons is an impact player in the SEC like many say he will be, Simmons and many other starters could miss the South Alabama game and the Bulldogs will still win. In MSU’s official statement on the Simmon’s decision, it said that Simmons was waiting resolution on misdemeanor charges where, “in an effort to break up a domestic fight between his sister and another adult woman, he used physical force against one of those involved in the altercation.” I agree Simmons deserves a second chance, but in the video, Simmons is shown pounding the woman who is already on the ground. I also doubt if the statement was the product of State’s sports information department. I’m sure it was written and approved at the highest level of the president’s office.
What one word best describes the administration of Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber? ROTTEN
Congressman Thompson should worry about his constituents, not the state flag
It was not really a surprise recently to see the front page story in the Clarion.Ledger entitled, “Mississippians rally against the state flag.” A picture of the rally on Capitol Hill in Washington showed U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson speaking at the rally. Thompson, the senior member of the Mississippi’s delegation in the House, was elected in 1993. Most of his congressional district includes the Mississippi Delta, the poorest area of a poor state. Since he was elected almost 25 years ago, have the lives of his Delta constituents improved? The answer in a resounding “No.”
Ocean Springs’ Walker makes grand and bizarre exit from prison
Many celebrities are known for making a grand entrance at various functions. Scott Walker of Ocean Springs has made what could be described as a grand exit from federal prison. Politician and businessman Scott Walker was recently released from federal prison after serving 18 months, was in a halfway house in Hattiesburg for a short time and was under house arrest for a month. He did not arrive home quietly. After graduating from Ole Miss, Walker worked for Sen. Trent Lott, did a stint in the White House when George W. Bush was president and later worked for Sen. Roger Wicker when he returned to Mississippi. Not short on political ambition, Walker ran for mayor of his hometown of Ocean Springs. He spend a huge amount of money on the campaign but was defeated by incumbent Democrat Connie Moran. He then eyed a race for the Mississippi Legislature, but his rapid fall began that led to federal prison. Walker got caught up in the scandal at the Mississippi Department of Resources where his father Billy served as director. Dr. Billy Walker is now serving five years in federal prison. Scott Walker’s business partner, former state legislator and D’Iberville city manager Michael Janus, was also sentenced to federal prison. After gaining his freedom, Walker did not waste any time posting pictures of himself, his wife Trinity and two children on Facebook. The pictures left the impression that Walker was celebrating a homecoming from some major public service or business success. The real kicker came shortly in a interview he gave to Sun Herald reporter Anita Lee.
Walker claims he was innocent, but he should read his own guilty plea agreement before Federal Judge Keith Starrett
He told the Sun Herald he never committed a crime. In his plea agreement signed on February 20, 2014, Walker admitted he was guilty of fraud and consipiracy. In the March interview with Anita Lee, Walker also blamed his imprisonment on former Gov. Haley
Why the problems at a hospital in Jackson County are a statewide problem
The only real daily newspaper on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the Sun Herald. In the newspaper’s reporting and editorials, it has done an excellent job in the best tradition of first-rate journalism. Some readers may ask why this writer and others have devoted a lot of time to an issue that some think is not a statewide problem. Singing River Health Systems (SRHS) in Jackson County is a county-owned hospital system. The secrecy and lack of financial accountability at SRHS is an issue that is important to dozens of other county-owned hospital systems in Mississippi. Sadly enough, if the problems at SRHS had not become such a major issue for hospital retirees, employees, and the taxpayers of Jackson County, the Mississippi Legislature this past session would not have passed a bill to remove the exemptions of county-owned hospitals from the state’s open meetings and public records laws. Many keep hoping to see positive developments on the issue. That is just not happening.
Last week the hospital trustees and officials released the details of a new proposal to save the underfunded pension plan. Active employees enrolled in the plan would be eligible for a retirement plan when they reach age 67 and the benefit would be about 88 percent of what was originally promised retirees. This proposal, which still must be approved by the courts, is still a slap in the face to the retirees and taxpayers of Jackson County. For example, an employee who had been with the system for more than 30 years could have previously retired at an earlier age and received a pension higher than the proposed 88 percent they would get now. But on the heels of the pension plan announcement by hospital officials, in just a matter of days, county supervisors said they will release the “full story” explaining what happened financially at the hospital and the failed pension plan. The footnote was they would explain what they can “legally reveal.” How bogus.
Correction: It is more than pathetic
Several months ago, a citizen in Jackson County told me the county supervisors and board of trustees for the Singing River Hospital System (SRHS) were going to keep kicking the can down the road. The reasoning was if the can were kicked far enough down the road, the issue would go away or county supervisors could secure re-election. This bizarre situation in Jackson County took a new turn recently when Billy Guice, an attorney hired by the supervisors, announced that his investigation of the hospital’s failed pension plan had found no theft or embezzlement. Most people did not think the hospital system’s mess involved theft or embezzlement. There is no question, however, that the problems of the hospital involved mismanagement, arrogance, a lack of transparency, and a lack of accountability.
Even before the SRHS’s pension plan failed, this had been the hospital’s way of doing business for many years. And going back to Guice’s announcement that there was no theft or embezzlement, I think the final conclusion on that should come from District Attorney Tony Lawrence, State Auditor Stacey Pickering or the U.S. Attorney’s office, not Guice. However, don’t hold your breath expecting the DA or Pickering to be aggressive on this matter. Almost as sad was a Sun Herald newspaper interview with Guice. In an online Sun Herald video, Guice commented on the newspaper’s reporting and editorials about the SRHS. He made a crack about the Sun Herald just wanting to sell newspapers. That is a common refrain from public officials and others about newspapers whenever something is reported that should be reported, but the officials don’t like to see it reported. The public has a right to know.
Should include hospital trustees, hospital administrators and some county supervisors
There has always been some speculation that those involved in the Singing River Health System mess keep hoping that they can kick the can down the road and eventually the controversy will go away or the citizens of Jackson County will tire of it. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, and it certainly should not be the case. Despite those officials that would like to convince the citizens of Jackson County otherwise, the mess just keeps getting worse.
The latest chapter was last Friday when SRHS announced a loss of $4.8 million for the first six months of the current fiscal year and in order to save money the hospital was eliminating 14 positions and reducing some employee benefits. The spokesperson for SRHS told The Sun Herald newspaper that the system has been “belt-tightening and growing revenues” for the past six months. Remember, this is the hospital system that stopped contributing to the employee pension plan in 2009 but didn’t tell employees. This is the hospital system that spent almost $60,000 in both 2012 and 2013 for so-called “retreats.” For about three weeks I have had a copy of the Horne audit of SRHS that is dated March 6. The audit covers fiscal years ending Sept. 30, 2014 and 2013. The bottom line is “loss from operations” was $30.8 million for 2014 and $30.5 million for 2013. There are many things in the audit that taxpayers will find interesting. There is even talk that SRHS officials will ask supervisors for a millage increase to support the hospital. It got worse on Monday at the board of supervisors meeting when board President Barry Cumbest announced new ground rules for public comments. Cumbest said the decision was the result of advice from board attorney Paula Yancey. Rightfully so, SRHS retirees were furious with the supervisors’ new rules that limit public comment and response to questions. In effect, the supervisors said they have no obligation to listen to the citizens and taxpayers that elected them.
House failure on hospital open meetings, public records could reflect poorly on Gunn and GOP leadership
When the Mississippi House of Representatives voted to restore statewide transparency for hospitals, there was applause and cheering that I presume came from both the floor of the House and from some of those in the gallery. Let’s hope that applause and newspaper headlines heralding the vote were not premature. SB 2407 had previously passed the Senate unanimously, but there was a lot of concern when the House Public Health Committee reported out the bill with the provision that it only applied to the Singing River Health System in Jackson County and not all publicly owned hospitals in the state. The amended bill that was later passed by the full House restored the statewide provision, but there was a catch. The House included a “reverse repealer,” which in short meant that the bill would have to go to a Senate-House conference committee instead of going to Gov. Bryant for his signature. Now the wait is on for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn to appoint conferees to determine the final fate of SB 2407. There’s no question what the Senate will do, so the ball rests in the court of Gunn. Anything less than the conference agreeing to the clean Senate bill would look as if Gunn caved to the Mississippi Hospital Association. There were reports at the Capitol this week that the House conferees would agree to the original Senate version of SB 2407. That would be a turn of events from the bill that came out of the House Public Health Committee and what was later passed by the full House. After Gunn and the House Republicans lost this week on the tax cut compromise and because of their narrow majority in the House, taking a hit on transparency and accountability would not be good.