Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Former DPS employee sues over alleged retaliation for reporting bogus tickets

Two former Mississippi Department of Public Safety employees accused the Department of firing them in retaliation for reporting the a bogus ticket-writing scheme by troopers to the federal government.  The accusations were made in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on October 16, 2017.

Penny Corn was the office director for the Division of Highway Safety. Fellow plaintiff Twyla Jennings was her assistant.   The Division was responsible for obtaining and  monitoring grants.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded two grants to DPS for enforcement of DUI and impaired driving laws. The grants covered overtime pay for troopers who caught impaired drivers.

Ms. Corn claims that she discovered troopers were submitting false tickets so they could get paid:

Plaintiffs Penny Nichols Com and Twyla Jennings learned from a patrolman that the Office of the Mississippi Highway Patrol was conducting an Internal Affairs investigation into state troopers writing "ghost tickets" and using those "ghost tickets" to receive overtime pay from said federal grants.  "Ghost tickets" are tickets written fraudulently and "issued" to "drivers" who are dead or who do not exist, with the tickets later turned in by the patrolmen and utilized as the basis of paying the patrolmen overtime.  Being fraudulent, the tickets were never forwarded to the appropriate courts for charging the individuals named in the ticket with impaired driving.  The tickets could not be processed through court because the persons named in those tickets were fiction and never were stopped and/or arrested by the state trooper involved.
She did what any bureaucrat who takes her job seriously but doesn't want to keep it does: she told her superiors:

On October 3, 2016, Plaintiff Penny Nichols Com reported to Colonel Kevin Myers and Deputy Administrator Ken Magee that Internal Affairs was performing an investigation into the "ghost tickets."  Kevin Meyers and Ken Magee said they knew of no such Internal Affairs investigation but that they would find out if one existed and let Penny know if such an investigation had been or was being conducted.

She didn't stop with notifying her superiors but also informed the NHTSA about the investigation:

On October 5, 2016, Plaintiff Penny Nichols Com reported by email and telephone conversation to Brian Jones ofNHTSA that Internal Affairs was investigating "ghost tickets." As a direct and proximate result of the report, NHTSA froze all grant funds under said grants and indicated it would not pay overtime until it was satisfied with the results of the Internal Affairs investigation.  The Governor was notified ofNHTSA's decision.
On October 6, 2016, Plaintiff Penny Nichols Com followed  up her telephone conversation to Brian Jones of NHTSA with an email also telling NHTSA about the Internal Affairs investigation into "ghost tickets."  The email Plaintiff Com sent to Brian Jones was copied to Albert Santa Cruz, the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, Chris Gillard, a Colonel with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, Randy Ginn, a Lieutenant Colonel, an
The plaintiff claims she was fired on October 17, 2016 and given no explanation for the termination.  Ms. Jennings was fired on November 28, 2016 and given no reason for the termination as well.   They accuse DPS of firing them because they reported the alleged ghost tickets to the NHTSA.

They accused the department of violating their free speech rights as well as violating their rights as whistleblowers. Attorneys Dennis Horhn and Stephen Brandon represent the plaintiffs.; The case is assigned to Halil S. Ozerden and Magistrate Linda Anderson.  The plaintiffs seek lost wages and an unspecified amount of damages.

Ms. Corn sued DPS in 2015 for sex discrimination and retaliation. DPS settled the case in 2016 for $84,474.

Kingfish note: Read the earlier posts about her 2015 lawsuit.  Some of the details are rather entertaining to read. This is the first time any mention of the bogus ticket scheme has been made in any type of public document.  DPS to this day has not admitted there was even an investigation into the matter.  JJ reported in 2016:

Some Mississippi Highway Patrol troopers apparently adopted the best business practices of Wells Fargo.  Five troopers were busted for allegedly writing ghost DUI tickets so they could get paid under a federal DUI enforcement program.

NHTSA offers grants to law enforcement agencies for DUI enforcement.  The grant pays troopers to work DUI enforcement on their off days. Such an arrangement has several benefits.  The troopers have an opportunity to earn more money.   The Mississippi Highway Patrol gets to put more troopers in the field to arrest drunk drivers at no extra cost.

The troopers in question were allegedly writing fake tickets to turn in with their grant paperwork but were not submitting the tickets to Justice Court or taking anyone to jail.  The feds found discrepancies and investigated. DPS conducted its own investigation and charged the five troopers.  It should be noted that these troopers were a pack made up of former MHP Colonel Don Berry's pets.

MHP sources say a disciplinary hearing has been scheduled in several weeks.  However, the hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge instead of the usual board comprised of troopers.   A Mississippi Department of Public Safety representative declined to comment.  The representative said the department would not confirm nor deny the existence of any such investigation. Earlier post.
The troopers were acquitted in a hearing adjudicated by attorney Fred Banks.  DPS did not follow the normal procedure have having a panel of five fellow troopers determine whether disciplinary action was warranted against the troopers.

This story will not be covered anywhere else in the media.  The Badge Bunnies can't be bothered.  Don't want to jeopardize that access. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. Absolute crying shame that the Clarion Ledger has not written on this. It's not surprising since their "crime reporter" is all about access and short on real investigation, but it is shameful.

Anonymous said...

Law enforcement officers always tell the truth. Statutes limiting their discretion simply limit their effectiveness giving rights to the criminals, the citizens.

Give stiffer penalties to drug dealers.

Immigrants are violent and scary.


Anonymous said...

11:41 what does Apel's assignment have to do with this story?

Anonymous said...

1143...almost got a 100% on your comment except the first sentence is wrong. Those that lie should be charged (and obviously fired) and thier law enforcement certificate pulled. Goes back to electing judges with a backbone

Anonymous said...

Apel’s Coverage, without exception, fawns over law enforcement and ignores any viewpoints that could potentially portray them in a negative light.

Anonymous said...

Wow...Someone must have spent all their money from their first lawsuit. I'm sure all of the plaintiff's former subordinates are lining up to be deposed. She treated all of them the same...just like crap. The spanks have cut off the blood to her brain.

Anonymous said...

Corn was trying to protect the organization by self-reporting improper activity, and because the activity was so widespread and was being perpetrated by protected employees. And my guess why DPS did not follow their own procedures relating to disciplinary hearings could be 1. They wanted it to go away and Fred was just the man to make it happen (he should also be investigated by the state bar for his actions), and 2. The disciplinary board might have included troopers who weren't in on the scam and would have exposed the pattern of criminal activity.

This is no different from any of the SOPs at DPS, general orders are regularly disregarded based on who the parties involved are...ask Rusty Barnes how this works with relation to hiring, promotions, accurate reporting of time and leave, wrecks in state vehicles, and accountability of state property (was that iPad really stolen Rusty?).

Yet one more reason to hit the reset button (not like Hillary's) on how DPS does business. From everything I've seen and heard of DPS, it is a brotherhood of thieves with badges who cover each other's asses.

I hope Corn and Jennings both get nice settlements and the governor finds enough balls to fix the problem before he leaves office.

Flake Geldman said...

What does Therese Apel's fawning have to do with this story? NOTHING.

Anonymous said...

Governor does not seem to fix much as it relates to DPS. But the Governor does need more taxpayer dollars for another MPH trooper school.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Apart from the obvious fraud committed against the grant program; correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a ticket basically an affidavit and therefore a record of the court, and if they are falsified, could it not be considered perjury? Did anybody care to look at the conviction rates, or if court dates were set? What about their supervisors, and any DUI awards they might have won? It seems that if this is true, any trooper who wrote "ghost" tickets could be disqualified from testifying, and any case brought by one of those troopers could be called into question. I suppose if all these folks get Giglio'd they can always teach at the academy...

Does that make sense, or am I way off base?

Anonymous said...

2:58 but they are the most elite "law enforcement officers" in the state. If you don't believe it just ask one.

Anonymous said...

@ 2:58 PM
The report states that they were NOT turning the tickets in to Justice Court so the court isn't involved at all. They were only turning in a copy to DPS for the grant purposes. But, there definitely is a department policy and state personnel board policy and possibly state and/or federal law against falsifying documents. Especially when it is falsified in order to defraud the federal government.

Anonymous said...

If a certain US Attorney was feeling so inclined, he could file federal charges of conspiracy, false claims, and mail/wire fraud for starters.

Anonymous said...

3:37, hold your breath until anything is done about it. Falsifying reports are just a way of making money. You can't blame them for making money from the federal government. Just remember to watch your wallet when one of the thieves pulls you over. If they will steal from the government they will steal from the people they stop.

Anonymous said...

1:36 I am sorry but do you know her financials, if so please let us know because I would love to know as well as who you are since you do. As well as you calling a woman out for wearing spanks seems like a pretty low blow and low self esteem if you ask me, you must be over weight with yourself if you do that.

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying I never worked directly for either of the “victims”. I did work under the same roof. The way these two treated those that worked for them would have called for immediate termination in the private sector. Maybe it was the “Retaliation” statute she had framed in her office that kept the HR Dept at bay for as long as it did. These two will be lucky to get a settlement for enough money for a new pair of spanks and a new pinapple for the front porch. We all paid the price when she left after the way she destroyed files and deleated hard drives at Homeland as she walked out the door. Just one persons opinion but they got what they deserved.

Nothing Will Change said...

Just remember this....This whole cesspool is cultural. This crap didn't develop overnight or with a recent grant or two. New MHP officers didn't dream up this scam. It's been going on for years. That's the definition of cultural. They pass the baton every grant season.

Those responsible for encouraging this culture to breed and develop have, for the most part, retired under pressure. Including a few governors who have tapped out. But, their successors remain.

And more than a few good-ole-boys back at the precinct operating the breathalyzer machines are complicit as well. There's no money to be made if you blow .07. Not everyone can afford to pay Victor Carmody $12,000.00 on the barrel head.

Anonymous said...

5:34 I am a female and proud of the body God gave me. My mother taught me early that there are things you wear to work/school and things you wear to the club. Don’t get them confused. Spanks are a great product when worn with properly sized clothing. It’s hard being a female conducting meetings with police officers without having someone letting it fly. I have thanked the Lord God for those spanks a few times so we didn’t see the other side of this tail.
I don’t miss them but, I wish these ladies the best.

Anonymous said...

I’m confused. Phil is an experienced law enforcement officer. Actually, that is his only experience - a deputy sheriff. No wonder DPS has been in shambles under Barney’s “leadership.”

Anonymous said...

4:57 - they stole from you! The government doesn't have any money that it hasn't extracted from folks who pay taxes. But a dollar isn't really a dollar - by the time it's been sent to the IRS, laundered through the appropriations process and grant managers get their cut, I'd imagine it's only worth about $.50.

multiplyer affect said...

>>>But a dollar isn't really a dollar - by the time it's been sent to the IRS, laundered through the appropriations process and grant managers get their cut, I'd imagine it's only worth about $.50.<<<

Means for every grant dolla stole tha taxpaya pays two dolla!

Anonymous said...

Could someone please translate 7:49's post for me? Apparently, she exists within a culture that is alien to mine, and I am unfamiliar with some of her terminology and syntax.

In particular, I'm wondering about "...letting it fly." Is she referring to sperm, innuendo, spittle.... or WHAT, when she says, "it"?

To what sort of "club" does such a person go? I presume we're NOT talking about a club like The Daughters of the American Revolution, Garden Clubs of America, or River Hills Tennis Club - or even to Beta Club. So, is she referring to Sam's Club, or to the sort of club frequently featured in Monday news reports, when we hear about the weekend's stabbings and shootings, in the roadside lounges around Yazoo City?

And what are "Spanks"? Are they anything like 'Spanx'?

Anonymous said...

And what did she mean by 'see the other side of this tail'? Maybe she needs to be over on the opioid thread.

Plain ol' Catfish said...

You guys - we're supposed to be backing the badge.

Anonymous said...

As a former LEO, I considered it an honor and priviledge to serve. I back the badge but bad cops are bad cops and deserve the same treatment as other citizens. There is "0" accountability at DPS unless it's falling in lock step with the good ol' boys! Good ol' boys come in all shapes, genders and ethnicities!

As far as the whistleblowers go, it matters not whether you liked them personally! They were merely shining sunlight into dark areas we as the taxpayers would never have seen.

Calling The Fallacy Expert said...

I can't help but notice the several posters who scramble to impeach the credibility of these two women by claiming they were horrible employees who didn't like people. What's the name of that fallacy?

Anonymous said...

The buck stops with the Govenor, if he says go you go, if he says stop you stop. The Govenor appoints the Commissioner of DPS!
I ain't no freeking brain surgeon, but a cat is on the line and this shigity can be stopped.
Lay people can't even begin to wrap their minds around this malfeasance. This will never stop until we stop electing the status quo. If DPS can fire the little fish, why can't they fire the rats at the top that allow this shigity. Well I need to go take my blood pressure pill before I blow a vessel. Some of these Agency Heads are a joke to allow wrongdoings. 10-4 over and out.

Anonymous said...

Did she really have the statute/regulation/policy that refers to retaliation framed and hanging in her office? Seems like an intimidation tactic to me.

Anonymous said...

I am a LEO and was a Office of Highway Safety grant recipient as well. I was in her office numerous times seeking her assistance and I can tell you that she had no such statue framed and hanging in her office. If I were to guess that statement was made by an employee that did not like being held accountable for their work which I know Ms Corn expected of all she supervised.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:20, I am a LEO and a former Office of Highway Safety grant receipient and was in Ms Corn’s Office on numerous occasions seeking her assistance and I can tell you she had no such statue framed and hanging in her office. If I were to guess that post was written by a unhappy employee that Ms Corn supervised because he/she did not like the that MS Cirn held them accountable for their work and some of those individuals who are project managers definitely did not do their job.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:48 I'm a Sagittarius and I like quiet dinner and long walks on the beach... C'mon folks, just having fun - I know what LEO means.

It seems like this is another case of DPS covering up a situation where troopers scammed federal grant money, just like the active shooter grant... When will the federal government learn that Mississippi cannot be trusted with grant money? This case deserves a thorough investigation by the federal DOT Office of Inspector General, only then will this problem be solved.

Here's the link to report Fraud, Waste and Abuse to the US Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General:

Anonymous said...

I also worked under that roof. And MS. Corn never deleted files or destroyed hard drives. There was an employee who did that and she was transferred, never terminated but transferred.

For you to say Ms. Corn did that is an absolute lie. In fact because she keeps such meticulous records is why she won the first suit, and my guess is she will win this also.

Facts don't lie.

Anonymous said...

Come on people. The vast majority of the country go their entire lives without filing a lawsuit. As for DPS, I don’t have exact numbers, but I would bet that they have well over 1000 employees. Of that I would bet less than 1% have ever filed a lawsuit against the agency. Here we have one person filing their second lawsuit against this same agency. My guess is someone’s after an easy buck. If not, sue the agency and demand corrective actions be taken and protective measures be put into place. The DPS leadership will not suffer from a monetary award, just us taxpayers.
Kingfish: Keep us informed as this works it’s way through the system. I want to see if these two ladies want to make things better for all or paid their wallet.

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing how many people comment they work(ed)) "under the same roof" & she wasn't like she's being portrayed, yea well, she's gone. Twyla is gone. And like many employed "under that roof" I read, follow & sometimes post comments on this blog....js

Btw @ 1/31 6:00 pm pineapple for the front porch bahahaha

Anonymous said...

We never heard any more about the federal grant money being stolen and pissed away by JSU last year. What were those graduate students supposed to study and report back on? Who knows? Who cares? More money pissed away and slood into greedy pockets.

Anonymous said...

6:53 - how many people actually work in that office? From looking at the website there are only 15 people, 2 of those are at the fusion center, and 4 others work offsite (thanks facebook) - so 9 people are generating all of these comments and causing all of this nonsense?

Anonymous said...

8:52 - amazing huh?

Anonymous said...

Is there a way to look at all of the active lawsuits filed against state agencies and their leadership? I bet that would be a good indicator of shitty management and poor decision-making.

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