Two charged in election fund embezzlement case say charges should be dismissed, arguing funds were private

More filings reported in CTCL election grant embezzlement case.
More filings reported in CTCL election grant embezzlement case.
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 6:36 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Two people tied to a Hinds County election fund embezzlement scheme say their cases should be dismissed, arguing the funds were private, not public.

Attorneys for Sudie Jones-Teague and Cedric Cornelius have filed motions to dismiss their clients’ cases. The motion in Cornelius’ case was a supplement to his initial dismissal motion in May.

Both motions argue that the funds used to pay them were private dollars awarded to the Hinds County Election Commission through the Center for Tech and Civic Life, and based on award letter terms, were not public monies.

Cornelius and Jones-Teague were arrested in February, months after a WLBT investigation raised questions about how their companies used tens of thousands of dollars awarded to them by the commission.

Cornelius was the owner of the now-dissolved Apogee Group II, which received $188,771 in CTCL money to provide various services prior to the 2020 general election; however, court records allege the work was never done.

Jones-Teague is the registered agent of New Beginnings, a beauty supply shop in Crystal Springs. That company was awarded $122,016 from the CTCL grant to provide cleaning services at Election Commission headquarters and District 3 polling locations and to provide a training luncheon for new commissioners. Like in the case of Apogee, indictments state the work was never done.

The county received more than $1.6 million from the Mark Zuckerberg-backed nonprofit to keep voters and election workers safe during the pandemic.

“The signed and executive agreements or contracts between CTCL and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors clearly and unequivocally show that the [money] awarded to the Hinds County Election Commission, and from which Cornelius was paid, were and remain private funds,” attorney Dennis Sweet wrote. “Based on these contract provisions, CTCL retained control over the award.”

Attorneys for both individuals point to two provisions in the award letter CTCL sent the county in September 2020.

The first states that the grant “may not supplant previously appropriated funds... [And that] any amount supplanted, reduced or not provided in contravention of this paragraph shall be repaired to CTCL up to the total amount of this grant.”

The second provision attorneys point to states that CTCL “may discontinue, modify, withhold part of, or ask for the return of all or part of the grant funds if it determines” that contract terms had not been met.

“The CTCL funds were held in trust by the Hinds County Board of Supervisors for the benefit of CTCL,” wrote Ed Blackmon, attorney for Jones-Teague. “The indictment of Ms. Jones must be dismissed for the reason that she was not paid through the use of ‘public funds.’ At best, the beneficiary of the trust, CTCL, and not the state, may commence a civil action against Ms. Jones.”

State Auditor Shad White previously told WLBT that once private funds are given to a government entity, they are no longer private.

“Once that money hits a government bank account, that’s public money,” White explained. “It has to follow all the same rules that any other taxpayer dollar has to follow.”

“Putting that aside, though, it’s important to remember that even if that money weren’t public dollars, even if weren’t public money, you can still commit crimes with that money. If you submit fraudulent invoices, for instance, you’re still committing fraud whether we would classify that money as government money, private money, whatever it may be,” he added. “In addition to that... you cannot use your public position, your official position, (to) take a bribe and then make a decision as a result of taking that bribe.”

Others arrested in connection with the scheme include District 2 Commissioner Toni Johnson and business owners Undare Kidd and his wife, Trafonda.

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