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Bernie Ebbers, the man behind the WorldCom scandal, pleads for early release

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Bernie Ebbers in his 2003 booking photo.

Bernie Ebbers, the man behind one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history, is asking to be let out of prison early on a compassionate release.

Ebbers was the CEO of WorldCom, once the second-largest telecom company in the U.S., headquartered in Clinton, Miss. WorldCom was one of the few publicly held Mississippi corporations and in the late ’90s, it seemed everything was going right for the company. In 1997, WorldCom merged with MCI in the largest corporate merger in U.S. history.

Five years later, in 2002, WorldCom declared bankruptcy after an $11 billion accounting fraud was revealed. Some 30,000 employees eventually lost their jobs and many lost their life savings, as the company once strongly advised betting on WorldCom stock to bulk up 401k retirement accounts. Other company shareholders lost billions practically overnight as the stocked tanked and was eventually delisted.

Also left in the dust were investors and vendor companies who never fully recouped $35 billion the company owed.

The company reorganized after bankruptcy under the name MCI in 2004, with most of its debt gone and most of its assets intact. It also left Mississippi for Virginia.

Convicted of securities fraud in 2005, Ebbers received a 25-year sentence, which he began in 2006. Reportedly, he has never admitted his responsibility in the matter, instead blaming people that worked for him. A number of those people were also convicted in the scandal after pleading guilty and cooperating in the investigation.

Now, the 78-year-old Ebbers is asking a judge to be let out due to failing health. His lawyers say he is legally blind and suffers from a heart condition and mental deterioration.

If he serves his entire term, Ebbers would be released in 2031 at age 90.

Business

Vicksburg inks deal with Viking River Cruises valued at $2.5 million

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The Viking Mississippi (image source: Viking USA)

Although Vicksburg hasn’t seen a riverboat docking in months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t stopped the city or the companies running riverboat cruises from planning for the future.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. announced Tuesday that the city had signed an agreement with Viking USA, the parent company of Viking River Cruises. The contract includes $2.5 million in improvements that Viking will make to the waterfront. According to its website, Viking will begin Mississippi River cruises beginning in October 2022.

“This is a big win for Vicksburg’s future at no cost to taxpayers,” Flaggs wrote in a social media post Tuesday.

The agreement states that Viking will build a floating dock to accommodate its boats and a 10-foot wide sidewalk leading to parking and a pedestrian crossing over nearby railroad tracks. It could also include utility tie-ins, benches, pavilions, curbing, striping and signage Viking may want to add.

The city included the pedestrian crossing in its waterfront improvement plan announced in September.

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Crime

Former community college employee arrested for embezzlement

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(photo courtesy of Mississippi Office of the State Auditor)

Today State Auditor Shad White announced Special Agents from his office have arrested former Northeast Mississippi Community College employee, Amy Haynie, after she was indicted for embezzlement. Hanie was issued a $68,762.87 demand letter upon her arrest. That demand total includes interest and investigative expenses.

Amy Haynie (photo courtesy of Mississippi Office of the State Auditor)

Haynie is accused of embezzling cash from a college petty cash fund and from students as they paid various college-related fees. Investigators determined over $57,000 was stolen from the college. Haynie was able to hide the alleged scheme from May 2016 to February 2020 because the internal controls in her office allowed her to manipulate records of how cash was collected and deposited.

“The auditor’s office is committed to putting a stop to all fraud, but particularly fraud that involves theft from the students of Mississippi,” said Auditor White. “These are not victimless crimes. We will continue to pursue cases like these to make sure every dollar is spent in accordance with the law.”

Haynie surrendered to Special Agents at the Prentiss County Jail. Her bond was set at $10,000 by the court.

If convicted, Haynie faces up to 20 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The case will be prosecuted by the office of District Attorney John Weddle.

A $10,000 surety bond covers Haynie’s employment at Northeast Mississippi Community College. A surety bond is similar to insurance designed to protect taxpayers from corruption. Haynie will remain liable for the full amount of the demand in addition to criminal proceedings.

Suspected fraud can be reported to the Auditor’s office online any time by clicking the red button at www.osa.ms.gov or via telephone during normal business hours at 1-(800)-321-1275.

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COVID-19

Vicksburg Warren School District reports eight new COVID-19 cases and 47 quarantined

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The Vicksburg Warren School District reports eight new COVID-19 cases in schools for the week of Nov. 9 through Nov. 13.

In addition, 47 individuals were newly quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus in the same time period.

The following schools were affected:

Beechwood Elementary School 

  • 2 quarantined – teachers/staff
  • 3 quarantined – students

River City Early College

  • 2 new positive cases – teachers/staff
  • 1 new positive case – student
  • 6 quarantined – students

Vicksburg High School

  • 1 new positive case – teacher/staff
  • 4 new positive cases – students
  • 5 quarantined – teachers/staff
  • 30 quarantined – students

Vicksburg Junior High School

  • 1 quarantined – teacher/staff
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