Thursday, October 22, 2020

Ex-head of Mississippi Department of Education charged with fraud, bribery

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A federal grand jury charged four people, including the former head of Mississippi Department of Education, with misusing public money.

The indictment charges Cerissa Renfroe Neal, 45, of Madison County, David B. Hunt, 54, of Jackson, Tennessee, Joseph Kyles, 51, of Memphis, Tennessee, and Lambert Martin, 59, of Memphis, Tennessee.

Neal is the former Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Education. All four are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and seven counts of wire fraud. Neal and Kyles both face an additional one count of money laundering and three counts of bribery.

Neal was in her role with MDOE from 2013-16 when the alleged crimes took place. Investigators she and the others used bid-rigging, false quotes and altered purchase orders to award contracts and purchase orders at inflated prices so Kyles, Hunt and Martin’s businesses could profit.

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Kyles is the head of The Kyles Company, Hunt runs Doc Imaging and Martin heads Educational Awareness. Investigators say Neal split contract requests into smaller deals as to not trigger a formal bidding process.

Combined, investigators say the businesses earned $650,000 from the State of Mississippi through these contracts.

If convicted, each faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy and fire fraud, and 10 years for each count of money laundering and bribery.

State Auditor Shad White issued this statement on the charges:

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“I applaud the investigative work in this case and that of our federal partners. In 2017, the auditor’s office provided information about these defendants to federal authorities, so I’m grateful for the work of those investigators and former Auditor Pickering as well.” – State Auditor Shad White

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