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Mississippi joins lawsuit to protect seniors from $185 million precious-metals scheme

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Mississippi has joined a multistate lawsuit alleging Metals.com and Barrick Capital Inc. solicited $185 million, including over $350,000 in Mississippi, from 1,600 seniors and other vulnerable investors nationwide by touting precious metals at grossly inflated prices that were not disclosed.

The Mississippi attorney general and secretary of state joined the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 29 other states in filing the complaint Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

“The defendants were preying on seniors and other vulnerable persons, grossly misrepresenting the value and likelihood of financial profit of the investments they were selling and scamming consumers out of their retirement savings,” Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in a statement. “I appreciate the work of the secretary of state in this matter, and we will continue to work together to protect the rights of Mississippi consumers.”

The complaint names Los Angeles, California-based companies TMTE Inc., also known as Metals.com, Chase Metals Inc., Chase Metals LLC, Barrick Capital Inc., along with Simon Batashvili, Lucas Asher and Tower Equity LLC. The defendants are accused of using cold calling, television, radio and social media advertisements designed to “instill fear in elderly and retirement-aged investors and build trust with investors based on representations of political or religious affinity.” Investors were advised to liquidate their holdings at registered investment firms to fund investments in precious metals bullion through self-directed individual retirement accounts and bullion coins, the complaint said.

“This historic joint effort between the CFTC and 30 state regulators is an important step toward rooting out fraud across the country,” said CFTC Chairman Heath P. Tarbert. “This case highlights just how geographically broad commodities fraud can be in our rapidly-evolving financial markets and how important it is for regulators at all levels of government to work together to pursue bad actors and protect market participants.”

The defendants also are accused of failing to disclose, among other things, the markup Metals.com and Barrick charged investors for their precious metals bullion products and that investors could lose most of their funds immediately upon completing a transaction. The defendants charged investors prices for gold or silver bullion averaging from 100% to more than 300% the melt value or spot price of that gold or silver bullion. In many cases, the market value of the precious metals sold to investors was substantially lower than the value of the securities and other retirement savings investors had liquidated to fund their purchase.

“They capitalized on investors’ fear of market instability and took advantage of hard-working Mississippians,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson. “Our investors suffered consequential losses from retirement savings, and it’s only right that we take action. We’re working closely with the attorney general’s office to ensure the victims of this case receive justice, and we encourage all investors to thoroughly scrutinize and research any investment opportunity or offer.”

The complaint requests the court to order the defendants to cease sales activity, return money to investors, and stop defrauding investors and violating federal and state laws going forward. The complaint also requests that a receiver be appointed to take over the companies to marshal funds for the benefit of investors across the country.

Metals.com and its agents have attempted to evade previous regulatory actions from 12 states by, among other tactics, changing its business name. Friday’s coordinated state and federal action to put a stop to the company’s efforts to continue to prey on elderly investors is the result of a multistate collaboration by members of the North American Securities Administrators Association, of which the Mississippi secretary of state’s office is a member, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Office of Cooperative Enforcement.

If you suspect you have been targeted by similar precious metals investment schemes, please contact the Securities Division at 601-359-1334.

Fire

Leaf fire spread to neighboring wooden fence in Openwood Plantation Tuesday

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Culkin Deputy Fire Chief Bobby Rufus operates the pump control panel on Engine 209 while firefighter McKinley Skipper extinguishes the Fire. (photo by Thomas Parker)

A fire in the Openwood Plantation subdivision was quickly extinguished by Warren County firefighters Tuesday afternoon.

The fire was located at a wooden fence at 102 Plantation Drive, and a passerby alerted firefighters to the scene shortly after 4 p.m. The adjacent homeowner was burning leaves and the fire spread catching the fence on fire, according to Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs. A classic pickup parked near the fence was not damaged and no one was injured.

Culkin Engines 204 and 209 responded to the scene.

See our live on-the-scene report on our Facebook page.

(photo by Thomas Parker)

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Announcements

Vicksburg among MS communities to see boost in wireless connectivity

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Vicksburg is among many communities in Mississippi that will be seeing a big boost in wireless connectivity, AT&T announced Tuesday.

AT&T said in a statement that it has added dozens of new sites already this year to enhance coverage and help give residents and first responders faster, more reliable wireless service. These investments will help customers get the most out of their mobile devices.

“As we all continue to recognize the growing importance of connectivity in our daily lives, these type investments help us stay connected to the world around us, and they also help us remain competitive and make us more attractive to outside investment and job creation,” said Gov. Tate Reeves in the statement. “While we all recognize that there is more work to be done to connect Mississippians, we applaud AT&T for doing that work.”

Without question, it is essential that our customers stay connected in today’s environment, the company said. That’s why we’re boosting network reliability and capacity as we expand our network. This helps residents in communities across Mississippi to get the best possible experience over the AT&T network wherever they live, work and play, including the following areas:

  • Ashland
  • Braxton
  • Canton
  • Carthage
  • Coila
  • Collinsville
  • DeKalb
  • Ethel
  • Gloster
  • Grace
  • Grenada
  • Hazlehurst
  • Iuka
  • Leakesville
  • Magee
  • Morton
  • Mount Olive
  • New Albany
  • Ovett
  • Parchman
  • Perkinston
  • Pontotoc
  • Poplarville
  • Port Gibson
  • Sandy Hook
  • Shaw
  • Silver Creek
  • St. Louis
  • State Line
  • Starkville
  • Swiftown
  • Union
  • Utica
  • Vicksburg

“We are committed to enhancing connectivity for businesses, residents and first responders in communities across Mississippi, and these network expansions are good examples of the work we’re accomplishing as a result of the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve invested in Mississippi,” said Mayo Flynt, president, AT&T Mississippi.

The upgrades will also benefit public safety and first responders on FirstNet – public safety’s dedicated communications platform — and giving Mississippi’s first responders access to the nation’s fastest overall network experience. FirstNet is bringing public safety communications into the 21st century with new, innovative capabilities to help those users stay safe and save lives.

At many of these new locations, our enhancements also bring Band 14 spectrum to the areas. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, this band – or lane – can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. When not in use by FirstNet subscribers, AT&T customers can enjoy Band 14’s added coverage and capacity.

From 2017 to 2019, AT&T invested nearly $750 million in wireless and wired networks in Mississippi. These investments boost reliability, coverage, speed and overall performance for residents and their businesses, the company said.

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Crime

Early morning armed robbery on Speed Street Tuesday

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The Vicksburg Police Department reports that an armed robbery and assault occurred Tuesday on Speed Street.

At 3:24 a.m. Tuesday, a victim entered the police station at 820 Veto Street reporting that he had been robbed.

The victim said he had given a Black male who he knew a ride from the Kings community to an address on Speed Street. When they arrived, the male struck him several times on his head with a handgun, causing minor injuries. The suspect then fled on foot with the victim’s Glock handgun.

If you have any information on this incident, please call the Vicksburg Police Department at 601-636-2511.

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Vicksburg
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