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Five plead not guilty in MDHS embezzlement scheme

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Arrested in embezzlement scheme: Top row, left to right - John Davis, Brett DiBiase, Anne McGrew; bottom row - Nancy New, Zach New, Latimer Smith (photos via Hinds County Sheriff)

Five of the six people accused in what could be the largest embezzlement scheme on record in Mississippi pleaded not guilty on Friday.

The scheme came to light earlier this month when investigators with the State Auditor’s Office arrested six Mississippians for allegedly defrauding the state’s welfare system of at least $4.15 million. Auditor Shad White called the scheme unprecedented.

Among those pleading not guilty is Nancy New, 67, who founded the Mississippi Community Education Center, the nonprofit at the heart of the scandal. New ran several private schools across the state, but she has since stepped down from those positions.

Her son Zachary New, 36, who worked with MCEC, also pleaded not guilty.

John Davis, 51, former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, pleaded not guilty as well. MDHS is the agency that oversees welfare programs for the state. Davis stands accused of funneling millions to the News and others while denying up to 98 percent of individual applications.

Davis abruptly resigned from MDHS in July, about the time the state auditor began his investigation.

Also pleading not guilty were Ann McGrew, 63, and Brett DiBiase, 36.

McGrew was an accountant for MCEC.

DiBiase’s nonprofit wrestling ministry received $2.1 million in welfare funds from Mississippi through MDHS, the Clarion Ledger reports.

The sixth defendant in the case, G. Latimer Smith, 26, has not been arraigned. He is a former MDHS employee.

At the request of the auditor’s office, a judge has unfrozen a bank account of the MCEC, which was frozen after the indictments. Attorneys for the nonprofit argued that without access to the funds, it could not pay its employees and that services would be disrupted in 42 Mississippi counties.

White called on the state legislature to fund a forensic audit of DHS after the arrests “by a competent private CPA firm.” Over the years, his office repeatedly called out the agency after routine audits for mismanaging federal block grant funds intended to benefit Mississippi’s neediest families.

The state auditor has also indicated that more indictments could be made in the case.

Crime

Suspect in custody after kidnapping, auto burglary

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Devonte Lewis (photo courtesy of VPD)

At 3:10 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020,  officers were dispatched to the Motel 6, 4137 I-20 Frontage Road, where a victim reported that a black male had broken into his vehicle and stolen a handgun.

The suspect, Devonte Lewis, 27, of Dixon Mills, Alabama, then approached the driver of a 2005 GMC Yukon, brandishing the weapon, and made the driver and a female passenger drive him away.  Officers located the Yukon several minutes later at the intersection of Mission 66 and Clay Street, stopping it in the convenience store parking lot.  

Lewis was taken into custody without further incident, the stolen handgun was recovered in his possession, and the occupants of the vehicle were rescued unharmed. 

Lewis is being charged with two counts of kidnapping, one count of auto burglary, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. 

He is being held without bond pending his initial appearance in Vicksburg Municipal Court.

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Crime

Redwood man arrested for assaulting a police officer

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Undrier Cage (photo courtesy VPD)

A Vicksburg police officer is recovering after being assaulted Friday night.

A few minutes after 9 p.m. Friday, Officer Hunter Anderson stopped a Cadillac Eldorado for speeding in the 900 block of Speed Street.

The driver, Undrier Cage, 42, of Redwood, Mississippi, got out of the car and attempted to flee on foot. Anderson attempted to detain Cage, and a struggle ensued.

Anderson received a laceration approximately 4 inches long to the left side of his head. He was transported to Merit Health River Region by ambulance, where he received 12 staples to close the wound. He has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Cage was arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct and driving under the influence. He is being held without bond pending his initial court appearance.

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Crime

VPD reports a string of burglaries from Tuesday through Thursday

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The Vicksburg Police Department reports that several burglaries occurred this week from Tuesday through Thursday.

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 5:58 a.m. officers responded to 1601 North Frontage Road in reference to a residential burglary. The victim advised he discovered the lock on his trailer was broken and multiple power tools valued at $5,000 were missing.

Tuesday at 11 p.m., officers responded to Parts Supply, 2406 South Frontage Road, in reference to an auto burglary. The victim stated he saw a white male wearing a camo jacket run from the cab of his truck carrying his lunch box while the driver was making a delivery to the store.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, a victim came to the police department at 11:59 a.m. to report an auto burglary. The theft occurred on either Bridge Street or Evans Alley, sometime between Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. A Taurus 9-mm handgun was taken from the unlocked vehicle.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, at 8:41 a.m. a victim came to the police department to report an auto burglary. A black, white and lime green Scott bicycle was stolen off the back of the victim’s 2017 Nissan Altima. The bicycle is valued at around $3,000.

Also on Thursday, officers responded to Tri-State Tires, 2209 Washington St., at 10:19 a.m. for a business burglary. The complainant stated one of the U-Haul transports valued at $9,000 was stolen Tuesday, Nov. 10.

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

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