Clinton businessman linked to Hinds Co. campaign embezzlement scheme calls for case to be dismissed
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – A Clinton businessman linked to a Hinds County campaign subsidy scheme says his case should be dropped, in part, because of “selective prosecutions.”
A lawyer for Cedric Cornelius has filed a motion to dismiss charges against his client, arguing the state is suing him because he’s African American and because the state auditor doesn’t like ‘Zuckerbucks’ .
Cornelius faces multiple felony charges in connection with the misappropriation of approximately $189,000 in grants given to the county through the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Technology and Civil Life.
The defendant argues that he was chosen because he is African American and points to the fact that the state “has ignored and refused to prosecute other alleged similar criminal acts involving white people”.
His attorney, Dennis Sweet, argues that the state’s inaction in the case violates his client’s rights to due process and equal protection under the US Constitution.
In particular, the motion singles out individuals allegedly involved in the state’s biggest social scandal, in which tens of millions of dollars in TANF money were diverted and misused.
“One need only look at the state’s failure to criminally prosecute (most) individuals…who received federal funds derived from TANF. Receiving these funds was undoubtedly illegal under guidelines issued by TANF. Yet, only after public outcry, the state is now seeking to recover nearly $24,000,000 from these individuals via civil action… This begs questions – why did the state choose not to prosecute? penalize these individuals as he did with Cornelius? Why did the state choose not to seek reimbursement of funds paid to Cornelius through a civil action? »
“It is clear that the state has engaged in selective prosecutions against Cornelius.”
In May, the state Department of Human Services filed suit against 38 individuals or businesses seeking to recover $24 million in TANF dollars. The costume includes many of the people listed in Sweet’s motion.
TANF is the federal temporary assistance program for families in need. The funds were supposed to go to families in need, but instead went to everything from investing in a Florida biomedical company to bribing state officials.
“In fact, according to the Office of the Auditor, some $94,000,000 was misappropriated and otherwise mis-spent. Recipients of these funds included a long list of individuals, almost all of whom are Caucasian,” Sweet wrote.
Sweet then listed 14 people, saying all but one were white and only three had been criminally charged.
A 2020 statement from auditor Shad White, however, contradicts Sweet’s claim, saying at least six people have been arrested and charged in connection with the case: Nancy and Zach New, John Davis, Brett DiBiase , Latimer Smith and Anne McGrew.
In December 2020, DiBiase, a former professional wrestler and son of wrestling legend Ted DiBiase, Sr. pleaded guilty and agreed to return all money he received.
And this week, White’s office issued a civil demand letter for more than $3.6 million to Jacob Black, a former DHS deputy director who allegedly misspent TANF dollars.
By comparison, five people have been arrested in connection with the embezzlement of Hinds County election funds.
All five are African American and all are believed to have received grant proceeds totaling less than $1.6 million.
“Cornelius…has been charged with a host of alleged crimes including conspiracy, fraudulent writings, fraudulent claims, bribery and receiving stolen property,” the attorney wrote. “It is alleged that Apogee and Cornelius were paid for work they did not perform on behalf of the commission. It is further alleged that Cornelius received approximately $188,000 from public funds belonging to Hinds County…”
Cornelius is the owner of Apogee Group II. The company is listed as a production company on the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website. However, he was hired to distribute voter education materials, provide voting machine audits, and perform cleanup work in association with the November 2020 election. He also received $17,825 to provide media services and photographs in association with the election, according to the indictment.
The indictment issued earlier this year alleges no work was done.
Sweet, however, says all the work Cornelius billed the county has been completed. “Most importantly, the monies paid to Cornelius were provided by a private, not-for-profit company, CTCL,” he said.
Sweet argues that Apogee and Cornelius were targeted because White opposes “Zuckerbucks”.
White has criticized CTCL, including in an interview with WLBT, where he said the group received hundreds of millions of dollars from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to use in the 2020 election.
The auditor said the group provided little control over how Zuckerberg funds were used, leading to widespread misuse of funds across the country.
He then applauded the Mississippi state legislature for passing a bill banning the use of private funds to fund government functions, such as hiring poll workers, in elections.
Citing these and other facts, Sweet calls for the case to be dismissed. If the court refuses, it requests that numerous documents, including those related to the lawsuits against Cornelius, be produced by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office, the County Attorney’s Office of Hinds and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors.
Officials from the auditor’s office were not immediately available for comment after hours on Friday.
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