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SHOEMAKER

SHOEMAKER

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Two men convicted in 2011 for a kickback-bribery scheme at the Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville will have some of their charges retried.

U.S. District Court Judge Neal B. Biggers last week ordered a retrial of Lee Garner’s three counts of fraud and one count of bribery and two counts of fraud and one count of bribery against former Tupelo businessman Ray Shoemaker.

Biggers, in the memorandum opinion, said the retrial is necessary because the government didn’t make public the indictment of their star witness, Michael David Chandler, until the trial was essentially over.

Biggers said the defense didn’t have all possible information when cross-examining Chandler because the information was sealed during most of the trial.

The information withheld from the defense, Biggers said, could have been used for defense strategies or the impeachment of the government’s star witness.

“…the Court finds that the defendants are entitled to a new trial on the conspiracy charges on which Chandler was the primary witness, and to do otherwise would be a denial of due process of law to the defendants,” Biggers wrote in his opinion.

Shoemaker is currently serving a 55-month sentence on other counts arising from the same scheme.

Garner has not been given jail time.

jb.clark@journalinc.com

DARBY

DARBY

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

TUPELO – A Tupelo man was arraigned Wednesday on two charges of embezzlement under contract.

Richie C. Darby, 25, of Tupelo, was charged after Lee County Sheriff’s investigators allege he failed to complete contracted work he received payment for in advance.

His bond was set at $50,000.

Before Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland set the bond, Sheriff Jim Johnson reported Darby has previously been arrested by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Tupelo Police Department on similar charges.

Johnson also said the Attorney General’s Office is looking into the case since the alleged embezzlement happened in tornado-damaged areas.

CRON

CRON

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

TUPELO – A Saltillo man was arrested Tuesday and charged with arson and aggravated domestic violence.

Nathan M. Cron, 34, of Saltillo, had his bond set at $300,000 Tuesday afternoon in the Lee County Justice Court.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office was called to the scene of a fire Saturday night on County Road 931 in Saltillo.

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson alleged the fire was set to the mattress in Cron and his wife’s bed. Cron left the home when the house caught fire and his wife and two children were in the house.

Johnson said they have responded to domestic disputes at the home before, but nothing of a violent nature. No one was injured in the fire.

county_lee_greenBy JB Clark

Daily Journal

VERONA – Police are working with the Lee County Youth Court to decide how to handle several juveniles suspected of vandalizing the Verona Elementary School.

Verona Police Chief Anthony Anderson said thousands of dollars in damage was done.

The damage was discovered at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday when firemen responded to a fire alarm police say the suspects pulled in the school gym.

Anderson said parents of the suspects are being contacted so they can be present for questioning.

 

news_crime_greenBy JB Clark

Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – One man injured in a Saturday night shooting has now died.

Justin Bennett, 24, of Hickory Flat, died early Monday morning from a gunshot wound.

Bennett was one of three men shot around 8:53 p.m. Saturday. All three were transported to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, two by helicopter.

Surveillance video at the Martin Luther King Drive gas station where the shooting happened showed the shooter to be a black man wearing a mask, dark colored T-shirt and brown khaki shorts.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Marshall County Crime Stoppers at (800) 729-2169 or the Holly Springs Police Department at 252-2122.

 

McLEOD

McLEOD

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – Graceland Too will be open for public tours Aug. 12 in an effort to memorialize the late Paul McLeod and raise money to go toward his funeral, burial and estate expenses, according to a release from McLeod attorney Phillip Knecht said in a news release that Graceland Too, in partnership with Holly Springs, will have a memorial celebration of McLeod’s life Aug. 12 during Elvis Presley week.

Tours, which will be led by McLeod’s family and some Graceland Too lifetime members, will be followed by a midnight candlelight vigil.

“Graceland Too is honored and touched by the outpouring of sympathy for Paul and the growing collection of soda cans at the doorsteps of Graceland Too,” Knecht said in a release. “We encourage Paul’s fans to continue to stop by and leave these cans in his memory.”

Admission to the Aug. 12 tour will, as always, be $5, but this time the fee will even apply to lifetime members to help with McLeod’s final expenses.

McLeod was found dead on his front porch with no signs of obvious trauma Thursday morning. His death came less than two days after he shot and killed what his attorney and police say was an intruder into his home-turned Elvis shrine.

Evidence from the July 15 shooting will be presented to the Marshall County Grand Jury in October.

jb.clark@journalinc.com

news_crime_greenBy JB Clark

Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – Three men were shot in a Holly Springs parking lot Saturday night.

Police received a call at about 8:53 p.m. to find three men with gunshot wounds in the parking lot of a gas station on the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, according to a release from Lt. Dwight Harris.

Surveillance video at the gas station showed the shooter to be a black man wearing a mask, dark colored T-shirt and brown khaki shorts.

Marshall County Coroner Richard Anderson said two of the men were airlifted to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, and he hasn’t received a further report on their condition.

There are no suspects at this time.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Marshall County Crime Stoppers at (800) 729-2169 or the Holly Springs Police Department at 252-2122.

 

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Mississippi has no law requiring property owners to clean homes where drugs have been actively made or used, like this South Madison Street house that was raided in 2007. Homeowners using a Realtor are required to disclose if a home has been the site of a meth-cooking operation but beyond the disclosure, no remediation is required.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Mississippi has no law requiring property owners to clean homes where drugs have been actively made or used, like this South Madison Street house that was raided in 2007. Homeowners using a Realtor are required to disclose if a home has been the site of a meth-cooking operation but beyond the disclosure, no remediation is required.

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

TUPELO – When a Realtor in Northeast Mississippi found drug paraphernalia in a house he was trying to sell he called Certified Industrial Hygienist Joe Drapala of Hazclean to inspect the home for methamphetamine contamination.

Mississippi has seen a dramatic dip in the number of active and obvious meth labs in recent years but Drapala said that doesn’t mean the problem of meth-contaminated homes and vehicles has been eliminated.

Many states have passed laws requiring clandestine meth labs to be cleaned to a certain standard before the property can change hands or be inhabited and while Mississippi requires a disclosure when selling, no cleanup is mandated.

In 2008 the Mississippi Real Estate Commission began requiring anyone selling their home through a realtor to state on the property condition disclosure statement if the home has been the site of a meth-cooking operation.

The lack in cleaning regulations can be partly attributed to the fact that clandestine meth labs have given way to smaller and often-times mobile cooking methods that leave behind much less obvious toxic waste, and also due to the unfair burden cleanup costs could be to unsuspecting property owners or taxpayers.

Lt. Eddie Hawkins, methamphetamine coordinator for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said many of the instances of meth labs they have seen are people in rural areas who sneak onto someone else’s property, like a camp house or old trailer, to cook the drug.

“I’ve had 21 incidents in the state this year and only two of those were active cooks,” Hawkins said. “Before, in 2009, we had 692 total incidents and 349 total labs.”

The incredible decrease in meth cooking, much due to the need to have a prescription for pseudoephedrine, is good news in Mississippi, but daily meth arrests show it is still being smoked and in many cases made by other methods.

Drapala said any amount of methamphetamine smoking or cooking, no matter the method, will leave residue on the surrounding surfaces and cause exposure to those around the surfaces.

“What they’re doing is reacting very volatile chemicals,” he said. “It’s not in a modern pharmaceutical lab or what you saw on ‘Breaking Bad.’ You’re looking at drug users making their own drugs and they’re not going to be safe. They’re going to be sloppy and they will spill ingredients.”

In Minnesota, a state with mandatory cleanup laws, the department of health warns chronic exposure to the chemicals used to cook meth can cause liver and kidney damage, neurological problems and increased cancer risk. Shorter exposures can cause dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, burns, chemical irritation and, as with any particularly toxic chemical, death.

Another reason law enforcement is seeing fewer home meth labs is because of a popular and often mobile production method – the shake-and-bake method – which can be done by combining ingredients in a two-liter soda bottle.

Hawkins said they see this method done often in vehicles while the vehicles are being driven down the road.

“We don’t have a way to test to see if the vehicle is clean,” he said. “If we seize one of those, what do we do? If we auction it off and someone gets sick we are liable. We can’t put an agent in it or sell it.”

Drapala also said studies at National Jewish Health in Denver have shown most nonporous surfaces can be mostly cleaned of meth residue with a thorough 409 scrubbing. Similarly, clothes sent through the washing machine can be mostly decontaminated of second-hand meth exposure.

The problem is when meth residue is absorbed into materials like Sheetrock or car seats.

“I just did a house near Tupelo and it was contaminated and we recommended to the people who were handling the home it would be best to remove and replace the interior walls,” Drapala said. “It wasn’t a cook house to my knowledge, it was just a situation where they wanted to know and we did a field test that came back positive.”

Hawkins said his department often ends up donating the possibly contaminated vehicles they seize to fire departments to practice putting out vehicle fires before then disposing of them as scrap.

To help cope with the problem of meth residue inside homes and other enclosures, many companies are producing home testing kits. The test kits are readily available online and work much like an at-home drug test, but for a house.

Another set of tools for property owners in states that don’t have mandatory meth lab remediation laws are the Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s voluntary cleanup guidelines. Those guide property owners and contractors on cleanup.

Signs of an area where meth is being used or made are dead vegetation around septic tank areas, used cold medicine packaging, lithium batteries that have been torn apart, empty chemical containers with puncture holes (like antifreeze, ether, freon, lye, drain openers, paint thinner) and plastic soda bottles with tubes or holes near the top. Since no one can be sure what was in a home before, Hawkins said anyone suspicious of their property or a property they plan to purchase should contact a company like Hazclean to have it tested.

“You can use soap and water and wash the house down but I don’t know if that renders it safe because we don’t know what was used before we got there,” he said.

jb.clark@journalinc.com

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Families wait in line and talk to volunteers to receive a free backpack filled with school supplies Saturday morning during the United Way Back 2 School resource fair at the Mall at Barnes Crossing.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Families wait in line and talk to volunteers to receive a free backpack filled with school supplies Saturday morning during the United Way Back 2 School resource fair at the Mall at Barnes Crossing.

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Thousands of students and parents filled The Mall at Barnes Crossing as they picked up free school supplies and learned about many back-to-school and family resources in the hours before stores opened Saturday.

Free backpacks stuffed with school supplies were given to 1,500 students also as a part of the United Way’s Back 2 School Resource Fair.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Daniel Mullins, 6, high-fives volunteer Rhonda Westmoreland on Saturday morning after getting a free backpack with his family.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Daniel Mullins, 6, high-fives volunteer Rhonda Westmoreland on Saturday morning after getting a free backpack with his family.

Jaden Boyd, 8, of Tupelo, got a brand-new orange backpack Saturday morning. Orange isn’t his favorite color but he picked it because it’s close to red, which is his favorite color.

“I’ve got paper, glue sticks, folders, pencils, crayons and markers,” said the Pierce Street student as he went through his backpack. “I’m excited to go back to school but I wish summer could be a little longer.”

United Way’s Robin Matkin said families were at the mall around 7:30 a.m. to make sure they were able to get a backpack in time.

“The turnout has been good,” Matkin said. “People are getting through fast and no one stood in line too long.”

In addition to free school supplies, many family- and student-oriented organizations like 4H, HealthWorks!, the Birthing Project, Healthy Tupelo Task Force, Catch Kids and the Boys & Girls Club met with students and families and handed out information.

Excel by Five had early childhood education teachers and care providers on hand to work with young children on the skills they need to be ready for school.

“The teachers have set up activities so the kids can work on the skills they need for kindergarten,” said Beverly Williams, Lee County’s Excel by Five certification manager. “We’re getting information out to parents about the things they can do at home to get their kids ready to show up for the first day of kindergarten.”

Students under age 5 also were able to get free books from Excel by Five to take home and practice reading and parents were given checklists to prepare their children for kindergarten.

Better Schools Better Jobs Mississippi representatives collected signatures on their petition to have the Mississippi Adequate Education Program fully funded this year.

The Families First Resource Center put on a skit, Giraffes Can’t Dance, to teach children about the dangers of bullying.

Representatives from the Walmart Vision Center were on hand to test distance and reading vision and let students know if they should be tested for glasses before beginning the school year.

In addition to the 1,500 backpacks given out in Tupelo, 350 were given out at the Itawamba Attendance Center in Fulton.

Five more Back 2 School Resource Fairs will be put on by the United Way of Northeast Mississippi in upcoming weeks:

Tishomingo County: Saturday, July 26, 9 a.m. –11 a.m. – Families First Resource Center at Tishomingo County High School

Chickasaw County: Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. – First Methodist Life Center in Houston

Pontotoc County: Saturday, July 26, 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. – West Heights Baptist Church in Pontotoc

Prentiss County: Saturday, Aug. 2, 9 a.m. – noon – Baptist Memorial Hospital Booneville

Union County: Saturday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Baptist Memorial Hospital New Albany

jb.clark@journalinc.com

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Ali Fratesi looks after one of the egg-laying chickens at Beaverdam farms as Dustin Pinion carries buckets of feed. The chickens are inside a moveable electric fencing, which allows the farmers to move the chickens along behind High Hopes Farm's grass-fed beef. The chickens scratch up cow manure in the pastures the cows have recently grazed, fertilizing the soil and eating the larvae.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Ali Fratesi looks after one of the egg-laying chickens at Beaverdam Fresh Farms as Dustin Pinion carries buckets of feed. The chickens are inside a moveable electric fencing, which allows the farmers to move the chickens along behind High Hopes Farm’s grass-fed beef. The chickens scratch up cow manure in the pastures the cows have recently grazed, fertilizing the soil and eating the larvae.

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

CEDAR BLUFF – Two Clay County farmers are changing the way people think about livestock farming and in the process, they hope, changing the state’s regulations for the way small farmers sell their meat.

Ali Fratesi, 27, and Dustin Pinion, 28, raise chickens and pigs at Beaverdam Fresh Farms a few miles west of downtown West Point in Cedar Bluff. They also work with other small farmers to create buying clubs, an easy way to bring fresh and locally produced food to people around the region.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Two barred rock hens poke their heads out of a chicken house at Beaverdam Fresh Farms. The chickens are two of about 400 used for egg-laying. The arm also raises about 1,000 chickens to sell as meat each year.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Two barred rock hens poke their heads out of a chicken house at Beaverdam Fresh Farms. The chickens are two of about 400 used for egg-laying. The arm also raises about 1,000 chickens to sell as meat each year.

This year, agents from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce brought to their attention a regulation that keeps them from selling their poultry in markets which has cut their sales almost in half.

Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s federal poultry standards, farmers can raise and slaughter up to 1,000 birds on their land and sell them in their state without mandatory inspections as long as they follow the safety guidelines.

Similarly, farmers can raise and slaughter up to 20,000 birds on their land and sell them in their state without mandatory inspections if they have a state-certified on-site processing facility.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce has an additional regulation requiring an inspector to be present during the slaughter of meat before the meat can be sold in a market (or anywhere that is not the farm the meat was raised and slaughtered on).

The demand for Beaverdam Fresh Farms chicken became so great that the two have had to begin raising money to build a state-approved slaughtering facility on their farm. The farm’s customers raised over $35,000 through Kickstarter to help with the facility, which will cost significantly more.

Now the customers have petitioned the Department of Agriculture and Commerce to rethink its poultry regulations so Pinon and Fratesi can continue to deliver their poultry and expand their buying clubs.

The customers collected more than 2,000 signatures in a week, and with the help of their attorney and the Farm to Consumer Defense Fund, a petition has been placed before the MDAC.

“Our biggest product was meat chickens, but now it’s pork,” Fratesi said. “Our chicken was half of our sales. It’s hurt us pretty bad.”

The farm is now selling about 10 percent of the amount of chicken they would normally sell in a season. The drop is because of their inability to deliver the chicken through their buying clubs.

“We’re 30 minutes from our closest market and two-and-a-half hours from our largest,” Pinion said. “And it’s not easy to get out here to the farm.”

A few customers still drive to the farm for their chicken but the paddocks that used to house meat chickens are now empty. The two are now relying on their eggs and pork to keep the buying club going until they get some resolution from the Department of Agriculture.

Request considered

The petition has been received by the MDAC and is being considered and researched.

Julie McLemore, the director of the Bureau of Regulatory Services at MDAC, said they take their responsibility of regulating meat seriously and that is why they are consulting other states that have different policies as well as the Center for Disease Control and Mississippi Department of Health.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Ali Fratesi walks through a pig paddock at Beaverdam Farms to make sure the pigs have plenty of food and fresh water. The pigs are rotated from pasture to pasture to help cut down thick brush and trees.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Ali Fratesi walks through a pig paddock at Beaverdam Farms to make sure the pigs have plenty of food and fresh water. The pigs are rotated from pasture to pasture to help cut down thick brush and trees.

“In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been here we’ve not had to deal with a food-born illness instance that started at a farmer’s market,” she said. “We are trying to do our due diligence to consider the request.”

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm to Consumer Defense Fund, said the regulation is hurting small farmers in Mississippi.

“There are plenty of other states that have adopted the 20,000 bird exemption and in most of those states you can sell those birds at a farmer’s market at the minimum while some allow sales in other places,” Kennedy said. “They’re really limiting the markets for small Mississippi poultry farmers.”

Pinion said he thinks the regulations are restrictive because small poultry farms aren’t common in Mississippi.

“We want to work with them and educate them on what we’re doing here,” he said. “We’re going to have them come inspect our facility when it’s built.”

Pinion said he also hopes a change in regulations will encourage young people to begin farming.

How they’re different

Fratesi and Pinion raise their livestock in a unique way and that is one of the reasons demand for their chicken is so great. The other reason is the ease with which they offer it to their customers.

Their chickens live on a grass-fed beef farm, High Hope Farm, and are in a moveable open-air pen. Cattle farmer Johnny Wray moves his cattle into a new pasture every day to provide the grazers with new grass while Pinion and Fratesi move their chickens into the most recently grazed cattle pasture.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Dustin Pinion carries buckets of feed through his chicken paddock at Beaverdam Farms. The chickens are kept in moveable fencing and mobile houses so the farmers can move the chickens to new spots of freshly grazed pasture each week.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Dustin Pinion carries buckets of feed through his chicken paddock at Beaverdam Farms. The chickens are kept in moveable fencing and mobile houses so the farmers can move the chickens to new spots of freshly grazed pasture each week.

“They have a symbiotic relationship,” Fratesi said. “The chickens scratch up the cow patties and allow the soil to metabolize the manure more quickly. They eat the fly larva out of the manure so we don’t have to worm our cows. It makes a healthier ecosystem for the cows and chickens and then the grass grows better because the soil is more fertile.”

The farming duo usually keeps 1,000 meat birds and 400 egg layers on the farm.

On another plot of dense trees and brush, they rotate their growing pig population in a similar manner. The 45 pigs rotate plots to help fertilize previously undesirable earth and cut down dense foliage. As the brush is trampled and digested by the pigs, Pinion and Fratesi get to choose which trees they will keep and nurture. Those trees are usually trees that will later nourish the pigs with the acorns and foliage.

The pigs are processed at an off-site facility but Pinion and Fratesi said one of the reasons they enjoy doing poultry is the manageability of raising and processing the birds on their own farm in a sustainable way.

“I can pick a whole chicken up and process it pretty easily by myself,” Fratesi said.

Buying clubs

To make shopping for local and responsibly raised food easier on customers, Beaverdam Fresh Farms has buying clubs. Every two weeks customers are sent a shopping form to select from the farm’s chicken, pigs and eggs as well as other farms, like Native Son in Tupelo or a number of other vegetable and dairy farms.

“You get a week to do your shopping, you can do it in your pajamas while drinking coffee,” Pinion said. “And then we bring your products to your city. We have eggs, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, aged cheeses, cheesecake – all kinds of dairy – and locally roasted coffee.” Their farm can be checked out at beaverdamfreshfarms.com.

Fratesi said they purchase products directly from other local farmers and run the buying club themselves to help the local economies and farms without adding extra work for other farmers.

Pinion said at this point they are holding out hope the Department of Agriculture and Commerce will see merit in their petition and until then he is encouraging Mississippians to continue to support and get to know their local farmers.

jb.clark@journalinc.com