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Exclusive: Hinds Co. grand jury indicts News on 46 counts in embezzlement scandal

Indictment detailing misuse of taxpayer funds kept under seal without explanation to taxpayers
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 9:02 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Hinds County grand jury has indicted Nancy and Zachary New on forty-six counts related to their alleged role in a multi-million dollar embezzlement scandal involving federal welfare money, including racketeering, the county’s assistant district attorney revealed during a court proceeding Tuesday.

ADA Jamie McBride detailed the need to convene another grand jury in a motion for continuance filed January 10, saying additional involvement of the grand jury was necessary “to address specific instances of potential criminal conduct” committed by the News and mentioned a possible future indictment.

That indictment, presented to the court eight days after the motion, indicates the grand jury met last week.

It also remains under seal, though the reason for that has not been disclosed by the court and does not appear to be part of the suppression order Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Faye Peterson issued in November 2020.

While those details remain hidden from the very taxpayers the News are accused of defrauding and embezzling, chatter between attorneys during Tuesday’s proceedings revealed at least one charge of racketeering, though the context is unknown.

News’ attorneys, Cynthia Speetjens and Tom Fortner, told Peterson they were just presented with the new indictment that morning, and would not be able to prepare defense arguments in the three weeks before the scheduled trial date of February 7.

“There are things in here in regard to ledgers and accounts that I’m not sure the defense anticipated having to defend their clients on those issues,” Peterson said. “There are things in here in regard to charges for racketeering and undue influence that perhaps, even though it existed, they were not charged with it. And so the defense didn’t have to prepare to defend their client on that issue.”

Peterson postponed the News trial to August or October, depending on scheduling availability.

When the trial does take place, defense attorneys don’t want it held in Hinds County, saying statements and soundbites from State Auditor Shad White have made it impossible for their clients to get a fair trial here.

“He has called this, I believe, it was criminality to an extent that he had never seen. It’s not just adverse publicity. It is a volume of publicity adverse to the extent that appears to be an absolute attempt to poison the jury,” Speetjens said.

Speetjens also shared examples of White’s verbiage in a motion for change of venue, filed days ago.

She suggested the trial be moved to places that primarily get their news from neighboring states: the Gulf Coast, north Mississippi, or Natchez.

McBride told the court this argument should have been made months ago.

“I don’t know why we waited almost two years to get to this point to say that because these articles came out, now we can’t get a fair trial,” McBride said.

Peterson has not yet ruled on that change of venue motion, waiting instead on testimony from the defense.

White would not comment on the statements made in court, citing the judge’s instructions.

“The gag order in the case bars me, and everyone else involved in the case, from making any comment on court proceedings or filings,” White said in a text message.

The News did not appear in court for the morning’s proceedings.

Speetjens told the court Zachary contracted COVID-19 and Nancy had recently gotten over the virus, prompting Peterson to proceed without them present.

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