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Fifth person charged in former MDE director’s alleged bid-rigging scheme

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Errol Harmon is the fifth individual charged in connection to a conspiracy to defraud the Mississippi Department of Education through bid rigging, false quotes and fake purchase orders.

Cerissa Neal, the former director of the Office of Educator Licensure at the state education department, is accused of conspiring with several others to circumvent the state’s contract procurement process and award contracts to individuals in exchange for kickbacks. U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst brought the charges against Neal and the others in February, but court records were sealed until August.

A request for comment from Hurst’s office was not immediately returned Wednesday.

The contracts first drew scrutiny from the state’s legislative watchdog committee, the state auditor’s office and media reports in 2017.

Neal pleaded not guilty to 12 total counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery.

In the initial indictment, three other Tennessee-based individuals were named as Neal’s co-defendants. In a separate document filed Aug. 25, Harmon was accused of working with Neal, Joseph Kyles, David Hunt and Lambert Martin in the scheme.

Attempts to reach Harmon on Wednesday were not successful.

Neal is accused of splitting contract requests from one contract into smaller contracts to avoid the competitive bidding process. Then, using her position in the department, she would allegedly award the contract to her co-defendants’ businesses at an inflated price, then personally receive a check from the business that won the contract.

Joseph B. Kyles, whose company The Kyles Company was paid more than $650,000 in a three-year period, paid Harmon on numerous occasions in 2014 and 2015. Harmon would then pay Neal soon after, the indictment stated.

Harmon is being charged on one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery and a third count of crossing state lines and using the mail to distribute unlawful funds. His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 24 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson.


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Crime

VPD reports two burglaries and an auto theft Saturday

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On Saturday, Oct. 24, Vicksburg police officers responded to two burglaries, one residential and one auto, and an auto theft.

At 11:17 a.m., officers responded to a residence in the 1700 block of Grove Street in reference to a residential burglary. The victim reported someone kicked his front door and stole a Craftsman miter box saw and a 150-pound air compressor. Total value of the missing items is estimated to be $550.

at 7:07 p.m. officers responded to Hobby Lobby, 3505 Pemberton Square Blvd., in reference to an auto burglary. According to the victim, someone entered her 1999 Toyota Camry and stole groceries, a pair of Air Jordan’s, a comforter bedding set and household goods. Total value of the stolen items is estimated to be $688.

At 6:57 p.m., officers responded to the Best Western, 2445 N. Frontage Road, in reference to an auto theft. The victim stated someone stole his 2012 Ford F-250 truck from the hotel parking lot. The vehicle had been left unlocked with the keys in the center console.

If you have information on any of these incidents, please call the Vicksburg Police Department at 601-636-2511.

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Crime

Vicksburg police arrest a man on firearm charge

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Merle Kirkley (photo courtesy VPD)

Vicksburg police officers arrested a man Thursday for a firearms charge.

Officers stopped to investigate two suspicious vehicles near the Indiana Avenue and Interstate 20 intersection, Thursday around 8:29 p.m. and saw Merle Kirkley throwing a small caliber handgun out of the window of his vehicle as they approached.

They arrested Kirkley, a felon, for possession of a firearm by a felon.

Kirkley appeared before Judge Allen Friday, Oct. 23, in Vicksburg Municipal Court. Derivaux set his bond at $30,000 and bound him over to the Warren County grand jury.

 

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Father arrested for taking newborn from hospital

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Travis Hargrove (photo courtesy LSP)

Police have arrested the father of the newborn taken from a Monroe, Louisiana, hospital last week.

Travis Hargrove, 35, has been charged with cruelty to a juvenile for taking his newborn son, Travis Hargrove Jr., from the St. Francis Medical Center just after 11:20 p.m. Oct. 22, the night of the baby’s birth. Police say the father hid the infant in a backpack, but the baby’s security bracelet alerted the hospital to his leaving the premises.

Court records reveal that the mother, who has not been named, tested positive for THC and amphetamines at the time of the infant’s birth, which could result in the child being taken from the parents by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, KNOE reports.

The infant, who was found safe just a few hours after his father took him, needed to be monitored for possible withdrawal symptoms, according to hospital staff.

 

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