A Tennessee attorney was indicted and three others were arraigned this week in an alleged bid-rigging scheme involving a former director at Mississippi Department of Education.
U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi announced Thursday the indictment of Memphis attorney Errol Harmon, 47, in the case.
Harmon couldn’t be reached for comment.
Former MDE official Cerissa Renfroe Neal, 45, of Madison County, is accused of steering contract awards in return for kickbacks. Neal, David B. Hunt, 54, of Jackson, Tennessee, and Joseph Kyles, 51, and Lambert Martin, 59, both of Memphis, Tennessee, were charged in a 15-count indictment for crimes including wire fraud, money laundering and bribery. They were indicted by a grand jury in February, but the indictment, filed under seal, was not made public until Aug. 26.
Hunt, Kyles and Martin were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Jackson on Thursday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball allowed each to remain free on a $10,000 bond. He set their trial for Nov. 2.
Attorney Terris Harris is representing Kyles, and the federal public defender’s office is representing Martin.
Harris couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. Assistant Public Defender Jacinta Hall said of her client Martin, “We have no comment at this time but look forward to our day in court.” No attorney is listed yet for Hunt.
Former MDE executive charged: Others charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and bribery
Harmon,47, is accused of conspiracy, bribery and interstate transportation in aid of bribery. The indictment unsealed Wednesday alleges Harmon conspired with Neal, Kyles, Hunt and Martin.
Harmon’s role in the scheme was to receive money from Kyles and convey that money as payments to Neal, Hurst said.
Harmon is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 24 in federal court in Jackson.
If convicted, Harmon faces maximum penalties of five years in prison for the count of conspiracy, 10 years in prison for the count of bribery, and five years in prison for the count of interstate transport in aid of bribery. Each count also can merit a fine of up to $250,000.
If convicted, Neal, Hunt, Kyles and Martin face up to 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy and wire fraud and 10 years in prison for each count of money laundering and bribery and up to $250,000 in fines for each count.
The indictments said Neal used her position in the Mississippi Department of Education to steer contract awards to Kyles and his co-conspirators’ companies in return for bribery and kickbacks. She allegedly received $45,000 in kickbacks.
Neal allegedly used her position with MDE to split contract requests from one contract into multiple, smaller contracts to avoid reaching the threshold amounts of $50,000 for some contracts and $100,000 in others that would trigger a formal, competitive bidding process. Then she allegedly would push to accept bids from the three co-conspirators’ businesses in Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee.
Neal has been arraigned and pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Lisa Ross of Jackson, urged people to wait for the legal process to play out before making Her trial date was set for Sept. 28, but is not expected to happen that soon. Neal worked at MDE from April 2013 to November 2015.
Contact Jimmie E. Gates at 601-961-7212 or [email protected] Follow @jgatesnews on Twitter.
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