Sources: Schloegel, Barksdale among finalists for MDA post (Updated)

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant will make what a press release called a “major agency appointment” Wednesday afternoon at a 2 p.m. news conference.

I’ve done some calling around since Tuesday, when the release was sent, and here’s what I’ve learned:

Two sources have said the new executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority will be named at the news conference. Each had a different name. One source said former Hancock Bank president and current Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel will succeed interim MDA director Leland Speed.

The other source, who had not heard Schloegel’s name connected to MDA, said Netscape founder and public education philanthropist Jim Barksdale will get the job. “He’s been vetted the past couple weeks,” the source said. “That’s who I’m going with until I hear different.”

For what it’s worth, a woman who answered the phone at Gulfport’s city hall at 10 a.m. said Schloegel was in his office, but was unavailable to take a call. To make it to Jackson for the 2 p.m. news conference, he’d have to leave the Coast by noon or shortly before.

I’ll update this throughout the day, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: Another source has said it’s Barksdale. So if you’re scoring at home, Barksdale leads Schloegel 2-1.

SECOND UPDATE: If you had Barksdale in your office pool, you win. Bryant said Barksdale will serve on an interim basis, and will help in the search for a permanent director. Bryant said the timetable for completing the search would be within 90-120 days, about the length of the legislative session. Barksdale will be paid $1, just as Speed was.

Barksdale will have to go through the confirmation process in the Senate if he still holds the job toward the end of the legislative session, when confirmations are normally done.

Bryant said Barksdale would immediately begin a review of MDA’s structure, to see if there are ways to make the agency more efficient and/or effective. Bryant praised Speed’s work and said the MDA has been great in recruiting industry to Mississippi, but added, “we can’t just say we’ll be like everybody else and be satisfied with that.”

Barksdale said he has filed his financial disclosure information with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, and is unaware of any business holding that would represent a conflict of interest with his new position.

For his part, Speed told the crowd gathered at the Woolfolk State Office Building that when Bryant asked him about bringing Barksdale to the MDA, “it took my breah away. This is a super step for our state.”

Metro Jackson well-repped in key political positions

January 1st, 2012 No comments

The governor’s office and both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature will have entirely new leadership when the 2012 session starts at noon Jan. 3.

And each of the new faces has roots in the Jackson Metro area.

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves are from Rankin County. Rep. Phillip Gunn, a Republican whose district includes portions of Clinton and Madison County, is all but guaranteed to be the next House Speaker.

The three men whose approval each piece of legislation must receive before it becomes law are intimately familiar with the city of Jackson and its needs and problems. Will that give Jackson a built-in advantage in getting its legislative wish list passed?

“I would hope it would help,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who has been the tip of the spear for many a legislative fight on behalf of Jackson. “But of course, (former speaker) Billy McCoy has been a big supporter of Jackson.”

Indeed, McCoy told the Mississippi Business Journal during an interview last session that one of his favorite ways to unwind after a day at the Capitol was to drive by the Farish Street project and check on its progress. David Watkins, who is developing the historic Farish Street district, said in a separate interview last April that he and McCoy would often run into each other in the construction zone.

“He’s really interested in what we’re doing here,” Watkins said of McCoy. “He realizes what Farish Street could do for Jackson.”

Brown was part of a meeting right before Christmas with Jackson officials in which the city’s legislative priorities were discussed. And while specifics weren’t laid out, Brown said the city’s agenda would be similar to those from previous sessions.

“They have to decide what they want to do,” he said. “Obviously, they’d like some help with some of the infrastructure projects that we have. We don’t know exactly what they’ll ask for, but roads are always a problem. There’s just not enough money for them.”

Brown said he expects to receive Jackson’s legislative bundle by mid-January, in time to file the bills before the session’s first deadline on Feb. 20.

It’s likely the agenda will include a mechanism to enact a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes law, in which Jackson would receive a lump sum from the state to offset the revenue the city loses from state buildings being exempt from property taxes.  The bill would likely be dead on arrival, though, Brown said.

“I’d like to see it. I think we need to do it with our property tax situation. With the budget like it is, I think anything that adds cost to the state general fund is going to be a non-starter.”

With revenue bills required to originate in the House, such legislation would have to earn Gunn’s approval before hitting the floor. Gunn did not return messages by the time the MBJ went to press last Tuesday.

Jackson scored a couple major victories during the 2011 session. A bond package totaling $38 million for a civil rights museum and a Mississippi history museum passed. The two museums should be open in time for the state’s bicentennial in 2017. They will sit adjacent to each other in downtown Jackson.

The bill setting up the fund for the museums enjoyed support from Gov. Haley Barbour, and several key committee chairmen whose districts are outside Jackson. It would have been difficult to form that coalition in the past, Brown said.

“I don’t’ sense as much anti-Jackson (sentiment) as maybe there was 20 years ago. A lot of cities in the state need help. There has been some concern in other parts of the state that if we help Jackson, what will happen for Hattiesburg, Meridian, the Gulf Coast. Everybody needs help.

“I do see some concern about just the whole financial situation,” Brown continued. “We don’t have enough money to do the things we need to do. There’s just not enough to go around.”

Records: DHA paid Delta Council $1M for ‘administrative’ services

December 25th, 2011 2 comments

The Delta Health Alliance has paid an average of $272,000 the past four years for an administrative contract with the Delta Council.

Those figures are spelled out in DHA tax returns.

In 2008, DHA paid Delta Council $293,630 for administrative services. In 2009 and 2010, that number dropped to $275,000. For the fiscal year that ended June 30,2011, DHA paid Delta Council $246,125.

In a phone interview in late November, Delta Council executive vice president Chip Morgan told the Mississippi Business Journal the economic development organization provided back-office services for the nonprofit DHA, which provides healthcare for the poor in the Delta.

Roy Campbell III, a Jackson attorney who represents DHA, said in an email that Delta Council has provided accounting and management services that “have included general bookkeeping and accounting services, payroll and check writing services, internal auditing and procurement services, logistics and administrative support for meetings and events, and community liaison work.”

The CEO of DHA, Dr. Karen Fox, is under investigation by Mississippi’s Northern District U.S. Attorney for possible misuse of agency funds. It’s unknown if DHA’s contract with Delta Council is a part of that investigation. Her attorney has said he’s confident Fox will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Although DHA’s website lists Morgan as an active board member, Campbell said Morgan has not served on the board since 2007, when DHA first issued a request for proposals for accounting and management consulting services.

Of the three responses to the RFP, Campbell said, Delta Council’s was the lowest, coming in at roughly $275,000 annually. The other two, from companies Campbell did not name, were $500,000 and $552,000 annually. Campbell said DHA’s contract with Delta Council is for five years.

Morgan did not respond to calls and text messages to his cell phone last week.

Since 2006, most of DHA’s funding has come via a competitive grant process administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Campbell said DHA does not receive its funding through direct appropriations, and the agency has not paid anyone to lobby for funding on its behalf.

In 2006, an appropriation bill for HRSA included $25 million for DHA. A continuing resolution in 2007 stripped funding for the agency. Funding was restored via a provision in the 2008 farm bill that created a USDA Health Care Services competitive grant program that authorized an annual appropriation of $3 million from 2008 to 2012. DHA has successfully competed for some of that funding, which was open to counties in the Mississippi River Delta, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Thad Cochran.

Also in 2008, Cochran was instrumental in securing a $25 million earmark from HRSA for DHA, in the form of a grant. In 2009, Cochran used the same method to secure $26 million for DHA; in 2010, he secured $35 million.

The money dried up in 2011 and 2012, as part of a moratorium enacted after the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans whose platform included eliminating earmarks won a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cochran spokesperson Chris Gallegos said records that charted who Cochran met with, or who may have lobbied for DHA’s funding, were not available.

“Over the years, the Cochran office has worked with a number of officials associated with the Delta Health Initiative, just as the senator’s office works with other constituents and groups from Mississippi,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “The exact dates, times and attendees of such meetings over the past six years are not available. Sen. Cochran is, of course, supportive of thorough oversight and accountability for the proper use of all federal funds.”

Categories: Delta Health Alliance, News Tags:

Financial relationship between UMMC, DHA remains in place

December 18th, 2011 No comments

Mentioned throughout the court file of James Hahn’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the Delta Health Alliance is a possible grant from DHA to University of Mississippi Medical Center to help the hospital pay for implementing electronic health records.

The hospital’s move toward EHRs is part of the mandates spelled out in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A hospital spokesman told the Mississippi Business Journal in early November that the process would cost $70 million over the next five years.

In a motion for summary judgment, DHA attorneys asked Lafayette County Circuit Judge John Gregory to bar Hahn’s attorney, Jim Waide, from seeking information about DHA possibly awarding a multi-million dollar grant to UMMC to implement EHRs, contingent upon the hospital using Chicago-based Allscripts as its software provider. In 2008, according to court filings, DHA paid Allscripts $1.775 million. DHA attorneys argued Waide’s seeking information about the grant during discovery was improper, because Hahn had not mentioned the claims in his original complaint.

Hahn, who was DHA’s senior vice president of programs before his May 2010 termination, said in his initial complaint that DHA CEO Dr. Karen Fox had improperly spent agency money for personal expenses, including a condo in Oxford, babysitting services and to pay an attorney for a private legal matter. The nonprofit’s board of directors approved each of the expenses, in a resolution adopted about three months after Hahn filed suit. The case settled last May, with the terms under seal. Fox, who remains DHA’s CEO, is now under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi. Her attorney told the MBJ in late November he’s confident she will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Jack Mazurak, spokesperson for UMMC, wrote in an email to the MBJ that between July 2006 and June 2009, the hospital received a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration that was administered through DHA via a sub-agreement between the hospital and the nonprofit.

Under the agreement, the hospital was awarded a budget of $3.5 million to implement EHRs. The grant was on a reimbursement basis; and between fiscal year 2007 and FY 2009, Mazurak wrote, the hospital invoiced DHA for $3.2 million for the project. Roy Campbell III, a Jackson attorney who represents DHA, said in an email to the MBJ that the total budgeted amount for the project was $6.7 million. Mazurak and Campbell each said the sub-grant remains active.

In a phone interview, Mazurak said when the grant was first awarded, Allscripts was one of the vendors selected after a Request for Proposals to implement EHRs at some of UMMC’s outpatient facilities that serve the Delta. One of the modifications made to the grant’s terms was the selection of a new vendor whose technology would allow connectivity between EHRs at the hospital’s outpatient facilities and those at the primary inpatient hospital in Jackson.

“The original grant was not specific to Allscripts,” Mazurak said, when he was asked if the grant was contingent upon the hospital using the Chicago company. The only conditions attached to the grant, Mazurak added, were accountability and oversight provisions that normally accompany federal grants. Mazurak added that the investigation of Fox has not altered the hospital’s relationship with DHA.

Mazurak said the hospital and the nonprofit have several other joint ventures, including an asthmatic center in Greenville, a mental healthcare services and educational programs for junior high school students.

Campbell wrote in his email that the two entities “continue to work together collaboratively on EHRs to increase the access of healthcare and to improve the quality of healthcare to patients in the Mississippi Delta.”

Categories: Delta Health Alliance, News Tags:

With construction underway, Natchez casino encounters more resistance

December 15th, 2011 No comments

The Roth Hill Casino in Natchez is already technically under construction, with piles being driven into the ground.

I’ve covered the ins and outs of this oft-delayed project for over a year now. The last time I spoke with the CEO of Premier Gaming, whose company is managing the project, he seemed pretty confident that the casino had cleared its last hurdle.

A story in today’s Natchez Democrat,though, throws cold water on that notion. The Natchez Preservation Commission laid out several concerns about the overall design in a Wednesday night meeting. The story even quotes former MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown, who has already made known his intentions to run for Natchez Mayor next year.

It doesn’t look good for the casino. Read the entire story here.

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Opponents of Diamondhead incorporation attempt Hail Mary

December 12th, 2011 No comments

Opponents of Diamondhead incorporation are down to their last strike.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Oct. 27 that efforts to incorporate the retirement village in Hancock County could proceed. Objectors had appealed to the high Court after a ruling in Hancock County Chancery Court went against them.

At issue is objectors’ assertion that they did not receive proper notice of a hearing in January 2009, the evidence presented at which led to the ruling on the chancery level.

John Fletcher, a resident and member of the Diamondhead Property Owners Association who opposes incorporation, said at the first hearing on the matter, in September 2008, the presiding judge recused himself. That led to the hearing being continued until the Supreme Court could appoint another judge to preside. The second hearing with the newly appointed chancellor was held in January 2009, a hearing Fletcher said he was unaware of, and didn’t attend.

It was at that hearing that those in favor of incorporation presented their case.

Attorneys for objectors argued in their appeal to the Supreme Court that incorporation supporters failed to provide public notice of the second hearing. The Court ruled 9-0 in its October decision that because proper notice had been given prior to the original hearing on the matter in September 2008, it applied to the January 2009 hearing. The Court also noted that the incorporation petition had gained the signatures of two-thirds of Diamondhead’s registered voters.

David McCarty, a Jackson attorney who represents Fletcher and a group of objectors, filed a motion for rehearing Nov. 28, essentially asking the Court to reconsider its decision, citing the lack of due process as a “major reason” it should do so.

Specifically, McCarty acknowledges that proper notice was given for the hearing on Sept. 15, 2008. But once that hearing was continued until January 2009, no further notice was given, violating incorporation objectors’ due process.

“That’s our main concern,” McCarty said in an interview last week, of the lack of notice of the January hearing. “We’re not accusing them of a bait and switch, but this is a loophole that could be exploited in some other instance. We’d like the Court to close it. Incorporation does have some benefits, but it inherently means taxes. When people are living paycheck to paycheck, new taxes don’t help.”

Ridgeland attorney Jerry Mills, who represents the petitioners for incorporation, said the objectors’ motion for rehearing is asking the Court to rule on matters the justices have already decided.

“There’s absolutely nothing new brought up,” he said. “There’s substantial case law supporting the Court’s original decision.”

Fletcher said the objectors’ case was likely doomed when nobody representing them showed up at the January 2009 hearing in Hancock County. Because of that, the reasons he believes show no need for incorporation are not reflected in the trial court record, eliminating them from the Supreme Court’s consideration.

The biggest problem, Fletcher said, is that the Diamondhead POA pursued incorporation using members’ dues, something Fletcher maintains is illegal. He argues that since the POA is a nonprofit organization, it is not allowed to engage in political activity. Fletcher added that the POA’s charter would prohibit it from using member money to pursue incorporation.

Mills said the issue of POA funds being used “is not part of this lawsuit. They’ve made those allegations in the past but they’ve never gone anywhere with them. I disagree with that contention, anyway.”

Fletcher said that, beyond the legality of incorporation’s financing mechanism, there’s simply no need for it. Diamondhead’s infrastructure is already maintained with money from POA dues, which are $80 per month for the roughly 5,000 members. The money also maintains the village’s airport, marina, recreations centers and baseball fields. “You name it, we’ve already got it,” Fletcher said.

“It’s run like a business. Every year, we only spend the money we have. And yet we’ve been able to, over the last 30-years plus, make this into the jewel of the Gulf Coast. There’s no need for a city government because we already have everything we need. It’s so much more economical the way we do it now.”

If the Supreme Court denies the objectors’ motion for rehearing, incorporation would take effect no more than 17 days afterward.

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Waller’s charisma was unforgettable

December 1st, 2011 No comments

Mississippi politics lost one of its more colorful personalities Wednesday when former Gov. Bill Waller Sr. died.

I only had two encounters with Waller, but they were pleasantly memorable. Here they are:

In 2005, while I was at the Yazoo Herald newspaper in Yazoo City, I covered a murder trial in which Waller represented the defendant. Waller’s client, if I’m remembering correctly, had shot the victim more than once in the back after an argument at one of the town’s nightclubs. Waller’s client was at the club planning a birthday party when the incident occurred.

Waller’s strategy was simple: Convince the jury that his client had acted in self-defense. His execution held a lot more flair.

In his opening argument, Waller put on a show. He yelled. He gyrated. At one point, when he was re-enacting the fight that ended with the victim being shot, he grabbed his chest, twirled toward the jury, and hit the deck. It was all jurors — and the rest of us — could do to maintain some kind of composure.

But it worked. Waller’s client was acquitted. In a post-trial interview, I asked Waller how he had done it. “It all goes back to the old colloquialism,” he said in his sing-songy drawl. “Who started the fight? My client didn’t start the fight. My client protected himself the best way he knew how.”

The second came in 2009, when Gov. Haley Barbour was presenting the Medal of Service to a group of Mississippians at his Sillers Building office. Waller was among them. Barbour called the winners up to the podium alphabetically to receive the medal; becase of that, Waller was among the last of the group.

Before Barbour had finished calling his name, Waller leaped out of his seat and bounded to the front. He gave an acceptance speech that went beyond cursory thank-yous.

“This is a great day to be a Mississippian!” Waller bellowed. “And I can’t wait for Mississippi to lead us out of this recession!”

Just like he did in Yazoo City, Waller owned the room. May he rest in glorious peace.

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Roth Hill casino gets go-ahead in Natchez

November 27th, 2011 No comments

In early 2008, developers of a planned casino on Natchez’s Roth Hill appeared before the Mississippi Gaming Commission and got site approval for the project.

Almost four years and a few delays later, Premier Gaming Group received from the MGC at its October meeting permission to begin construction, said Allen Godfrey, the Commission’s executive director.

Receiving permission to build means Premier Gaming, a Kentucky-based casino development company that is spearheading the project, has secured financing for the $43 million project. Kevin Preston, Premier Gaming CEO, wrote in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal last week that construction started the day after the MGC lent its approval. The first step was to drive piles into the ground, he said.

“We’re anticipating a 10-month build,” Preston wrote. The casino could be open by next fall, under that timeline.

That’s a couple years after the original opening date. Premier Gaming was hired to manage the project after the original developers – Natchez Enterprises and the Lane Company – could not secure financing for the project in 2008 as the economy froze the commercial credit markets.

Plans for the casino stalled. Earlier this year, the development group re-upped on its lease of the city-owned property on Roth Hill. The company will begin making lease payments once the casino is open.

The lack of progress caused a stir among Natchez aldermen earlier this year. That group voted to notify Premier Gaming that it was not in compliance of its lease agreement with the city. Lease terms called for significant progress to be made on the project within six months of the agreement being executed in early 2008, including the company locking down financing.

The delays fostered confusion among city officials and Premier Gaming about whether the company actually held a 99-year lease on the property – as Premier Gaming claimed – or if it was merely a lease option.

Natchez  Alderman Dan Dillard told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier this year that Premier Gaming only held a lease option on the property, which had been voided because of the lack of progress on the project. Specifically, financing for the project had yet to be firmed up, as had an approval to build from the MGC.

“My side of the argument is, they didn’t provide substantial progress during the option period, so the option does not just morph into a lease,” Dillard said in February. “That’s been my concern the whole time.”

The parties brokered a deal over the summer that extended the lease-option agreement another six months while Premier Gaming worked to secure financing so it could present details to the MGC.

That agreement was about a month away from expiring when the project got MGC’s approval to proceed with construction.

Roth Hill sits on Natchez’s riverfront and is a part of the Natchez Trails project, a recreation area that winds up and down the city’s bluff highlighting Natchez’s history. The Roth Hill casino will be Natchez’s third casino, joining the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel and the Grand Soleil Casino and Resort.

Categories: Casinos, News Tags:

If failure is the objective at Ole Miss, Dungy is the perfect candidate

November 22nd, 2011 No comments

This past Saturday morning started as well as any day could.

It was deer season’s first day that allowed the use of guns. I watched the sunrise in a treestand. I was happy.

And then I got a text message at 8:30, from an Ole Miss buddy, one of those types who always seems willing to pass along a rumor, however outrageous it is. “Tony Dungy to Ole Miss?” it read.

I nearly laughed out loud (LOL’ed, in the Internet parlance of our time). And then I heard it again Monday, from a different person. And yet again Tuesday morning from a different person whose monetary contributions to Ole Miss offer access most folks don’t have.

Do I believe it? No. Do I want to believe it? A thousand times, no. It would be a huge mistake, unless you enjoy watching Ole Miss fail at football. Then it would be awesome.

So if the goal of the coaching search is to hire a man who hits a grand slam in name recognition but will absolutely be a disaster in the actual nuts and bolts of coaching — and most importantly, recruiting — at a small school in the SEC, then by all means, Dungy is the guy.

Because Ole Miss gets QBs like Peyton Manning nearly every year.

Right?

Beef plant trial will lay bare the inner workings of complete institutional failure

November 20th, 2011 No comments

Trial set to begin on Dec. 5

Another layer of the beef plant collapse will be peeled back starting Dec. 5 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

The state of Mississippi, its now-defunct Land, Water and Timber Board and the Mississippi Development Authority are suing Facility Construction Management Inc. in effort to recoup some or all of the $54 million the state lost when the cull cattle plant in Oakland closed shortly after it opened in 2004.

Construction of the beef plant started in summer 2002, with Mississippi Beef Processors and its president Richard Hall in charge of the project. Community Bank loaned MBP $21 million, plus a $6.5 million line of credit for operating costs, to build the facility. The state guaranteed the loan through the Mississippi Development Authority.

In December 2002, Hall told the state, before the bank had issued the first loan advance, that the available funds would not cover the cost of construction. Unwilling to bear the risk of the increased cost, Community Bank suspended construction funding, and the state and the bank hired Georgia-based Facility Construction Management Inc. (FCMI) to evaluate the project’s design and its financing structure.

FCMI said then that the construction and budgeting process was deeply flawed and offered to oversee the project build-out for a total compensation package of $2.59 million. The state and the bank accepted that proposal, and contracts were signed in early 2003. This agreement increased the loan amount the state had guaranteed from $21 million to $35 million, according to the complaint.

“It was obvious that Facility Group had wanted to get involved in this project,” said Dorsey Carson, attorney for the plaintiffs. “Facility Group was chosen because they came in and put on a dog-and-pony show and showed how much experience they had in this area. But instead of doing what a design professional should do, they just took over every portion of the project, including renegotiating the contracts. They were the state’s insurance policy. Everybody wanted to make sure this thing succeeded.”

In a project management agreement submitted in July, 2003, the complaint says, FCMI’s total fees rose nearly $4 million, to $6.57 million. The complaint says that figure was the “guaranteed maximum price” FCMI would charge to build and deliver a fully operational beef plant, and that the company would cover any cost over-runs. The guaranteed maximum price to build the plant in its entirety under that agreement was $43 million.

The complaint alleges that FCMI failed to cover the eventual cost overages, did not pay $1.7 million to subcontractors, and pushed the project toward completion even though it knew it was flawed — the complaint accuses the company of hiding an internal memo that pegged the plant as a “money pit” — in order to enrich the company at the expense of Mississippi taxpayers. The complaint also accuses FCMI’s executives of using fraudulent billing practices to receive compensation for work that was never done, money the complaint says was partly used to defray improper contributions to the campaigns of Mississippi politicians.

“Internally they had their own questions about the viability of the plant,” Carson said. “I consider that memo to be a smoking gun. That memo went to the No. 2 guy in the company. It may not have killed the project, but it certainly would have made everybody take a hard, hard second look at it.”

The state is seeking a declaration that FCMI, its subsidiaries, and executives Robert Moultrie, Nixon Cawood and Charles Morehead were in breach of their contract with the state; an order that they pay any outstanding debts to contractors and subcontractors; and punitive damages resulting of the failure of the project. Cawood and Moultrie eventually pleaded guilty to making an illegal contribution to then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, and Morehead pleaded guilty to withholding information in a federal investigation of the plant. All have been released from federal prison. Hall pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering. His original sentence of 96 months was reduced to 64 months because of his cooperation with investigators. Hall is scheduled for release in May 2012, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s spokesperson Jan Schaefer said Hood’s request for federal grand jury records from the investigation of Moultrie, Cawood, Morehead and Hall had not yet been turned over to Hood’s office. Hood requested the records in October, with plans to use them for trial preparation.

The complaint says total loss to the state is in excess of $54 million, not including loss of revenue from the beef plant’s operation.

“They turned it over (when it opened) and they walked away from it,” Carson said, referring to the plant’s short operating time before closure.

“Facility Group, to cover themselves, puts out press releases blaming Richard Hall for everything. Richard Hall became the scapegoat for all this. He did commit fraud, but he committed small-time fraud. These guys are big-time crooks.

“(The agreement) essentially was one where they were acting as the owner and they were acting as the construction manager and the designer, and they had the checkbook. You couldn’t have a situation where the fox was guarding the henhouse any better than the way they set it up.”

Carson said he expects FCMI and its attorneys at Ridgeland-based Butler Snow to use a similar defense once the trial gets underway. Judge Winston Kidd will preside when jury selection starts Dec. 5.

“They’re going to blame it on Richard Hall, they’re going to blame it on the Legislature,” Carson said. Carson added that FCMI’s witness list could potentially include a who’s who of state political and economic development officials, if the presiding judge allows it.

“I’m sure they’re going to try to turn it into a political circus. This thing didn’t fail because there was no product. It failed because of design and construction errors. Everything else has complicated it, but at its core, this is a design and construction negligence case.”

Attorneys for FCMI declined comment.

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