LEAKESVILLE – North Mississippi Beef Plant scandal’s only defendant to go to state prison spent Christmas there and will do the same for New Year’s.
Richard N. Hall Jr., 52, hoped his cooperation with federal prosecutors would amount to something, and it did, as far as federal time was concerned.
But last May, when leniency shortened his federal time, state authorities scooped him up for another jail term his advocates insist should have run out at the same time.
According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Hall is in custody at South Mississippi Correctional Facility near Leakesville until March 5, 2015.
The Beef Plant scandal began as a seemingly well-intentioned effort by the state Legislature to promote agricultural jobs in the north part of the state.
Toward that end, the Legislature created the Land, Water and Timber Resources Board with funding available through the jobs-promoting Mississippi Development Authority.
This triumvirate directed construction of a beef processing plant in Yalobusha County, despite a Mississippi State University study concluding it was not economically feasible.
Hall, whose family had beef business experience, was approached in 2000 about building and operating the plant. He submitted a business plan asking for $17 million in state funds, of which $5 million was a grant, with the rest to be financed.
Ultimately, Hall couldn’t get the rest of the financing and the Legislature guaranteed 100 percent of a $21 million loan and $6.5 million start-up credit.
The project soon went over budget and Georgia-based Facility Management Group was hired to audit and then manage the project. The Legislature boosted the guaranteed loan to $35 million with a $3.5 million fee for FMG.
By the time the plant opened in August 2004, financial troubles began immediately, and the plant closed three months later. In January 2005, Hall defaulted on the loan. Six months later, the state paid the bank its guaranteed $34.8 million.
In early 2006, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern Mississippi charged Hall with a conspiracy to defraud the state, MDA, the bank and others and with mail fraud. He faced up to 50 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
In exchange for his guilty plea, the U.S. agreed not to charge him with anything else. Hall agreed to cooperate with authorities and tell whatever he knew about the scandal.
In August 2007, Hall was sentenced to 96 months on each count, to be served at the same time.
When the government asked the U.S. District Court to reduce Hall’s sentence by one-third in August 2008, prosecutors said Hall had been assisting them with other related investigations for about three years.
He was especially helpful, they said, relating to FMG, whose three top executives were charged, pleaded guilty and sent to prison for charges associated with making illegal political contributions.
“As a result of his cooperation, the United State uncovered an extremely complex scheme to defraud the state of Mississippi,” and others, the sentence-reduction motion stated.
Hall had gone to prison 10 months before the government’s motion.
Nearly 2 1/2 years after the sentence-reduction request, the court granted it with Hall due for release 15 months later in May 2012.
But three state sentences totaling eight years in prison remained for mail fraud associated with the plant construction.
The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office denies knowing anything about Hall since his initial prosecution years ago.
The Mississippi Parole Board repeatedly has rebuffed pleas from Hall and his family.
A call recently to former Hinds Sheriff Malcolm McMillan, that board’s chairman, indicated that Hall’s case isn’t on their radar despite the board’s efforts to use early releases to reduce the state’s prison population and its budget pressures.