Charges dropped against three defendants in MDE kickback scheme

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The U.S. District Court has dismissed all charges against three co-defendants in a kickback conspiracy involving money from the Mississippi Department of Education. Charges against the former MDE employee and lead defendant are still pending.

A 2020 federal lawsuit alleges David Hunt and Lambert Martin were conspirators in a scheme to improperly grant state contracts. According to the lawsuit, Cerissa Neal, a former MDE employee and the main defendant whose charges are still pending, conspired to split contract requests from one contract into smaller contracts in order to avoid the required competitive bidding process. She then allegedly awarded the contract to her co-defendants’ businesses at an inflated price.

Hunt and Martin had their charges dismissed on July 26, according to court documents. Errol Harmon, who was accused of receiving and paying kickbacks from the inflated contracts, has also had all charges against him dismissed. 

Charges against Joseph Kyles, Neal’s final co-defendant, are still pending. 

READ MORE: Former MDE director indicted in contract kickback conspiracy

Hunt, the owner of Doc Imaging and Hunt Services in Jackson, Tenn., told Mississippi Today in 2020 he hired Kyles as a consultant to help his document management company find business over a three-year period. He said at the time he had all of his receipts and did not know why he’d been charged.

“At the Government’s request, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed all charges against David Hunt,” said his attorney Michael Dawkins in a statement. “This dismissal against Mr. Hunt solidifies his reputation as an exceptional father, husband and community leader, and is consistent with what Mr. Hunt has asserted all along: that he is not guilty of the wrongdoing with which he was charged. Mr. Hunt is thankful to be restored to his rightful place in the community.”

Jacinta Hall, the attorney for Martin, said that Martin had also hired Kyles as a consultant to expand his business in Mississippi. Martin had maintained that he was not at fault since the original indictment in 2020. 

“After reviewing the evidence with Mr. Martin and the Department of Justice, they agreed that he was not at fault in the way that they originally thought,” Hall said. 

Hall described Martin as “ecstatic” that the charges were dismissed. 

Both Neal and Kyles originally pled not guilty, and their jury trial has been repeatedly postponed. Court documents show it is currently scheduled for Sept. 6. 

Attorneys for Neal and Kyles could not be reached by the time of publication. 

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