Friday, May 7, 2021

Retaliation for Tax Evasion?

The former Chief Financial Officer of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority sued her former employer, several John Does, and Commissioner Lawanda Harris in U.S. District Court in February for wrongful termination.  Ametrius Branson claims the Board of Commissioners fired her in retaliation for reporting Ms. Harris's airport income last year.

Ms. Branson worked for 17 years at the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority.  She served as Chief Financial Officer from 2015 until the Board of Commissioners fired her last year.  

The tale of this lawsuit begins back in 2014. The Board voted to give themselves a $40 per day per diem for airport business.  The per diem could apply to regular board meetings.  The Commissioners apparently never actually paid themselves that per diem until the Paris trip last year even though they authorized the payments.


All Commissioners and several JMAA employees attended the Paris Air Show in 2015.  The trip cost $50,000.  The complaint states that upon his return to the States, Commissioner James Henley asked for his per diem pay.  JMAA paid the Commissioner $4,800 for the Paris trip and all Board meetings he attended since 2014. 

Once Mr. Henley got his pay, the rest of the Commissioners wanted their per diem compensation as well.  Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money.  They all received checks that varied depending on their length of service.  

The lawsuit states JMAA sent a W-9 form to all Commissioners that was to be returned completed to JMAA since the per diem pay is taxable income.  

Three Commissioners submitted their W-9 forms but "two board members were slow in returning the completed W-9 forms."  This is where the fun begins for the plaintiff.   Ms. Branson asked them to return the completed W-9.  The lawsuit states: 

20.   Chair Harris and Vice-Chair Martin did not comply with the request to complete a form W-9.  Harris emphatically said that she did not want to get a 1099 form and did not want to pay taxes on her per diem payments.   Harris said that she planned to repay the money at some point  in 2020.

21.  In October 2019, the Executive Assistant, Tiffany Edinburg, sent an email to Harris reminding her that her repayment of the travel per diem for the Paris airshow was delinquent. A copy of the email was also sent to the Interim CEO, Warren and to Branson.

22. In Harris’ response to Ms. Edinburg’s email (sent in October 2019), Harris directed Branson to communicate with her “directly.”

23.  Harris continued to ask Branson for “direct communication” via emails sent to Branson and  others  in  December  2019  and  January  2020.  Branson  understood  that  the  directive  to communicate to Harris directly to mean that Harris did not want an email trail of their discussions of financial matters and did not want other board members and/or staff members to be copied on those emails in an effort to reduce knowledge of Harris’ non-compliance.

24. At some point after October 2019, Harris became primarily non-responsive to emails from Branson regarding (1) the delinquent repayment of the travel advance for the Paris trip and(2) requests for the form W-9.


25.  However,  in  January  2020,  Harris  did  respond  to  a  global  email  from  Branson  to members of the Finance Department, the CEO Paul Brown, and board members regarding the form W-9.

26. Harris’ response to that email exchange, again, requested that Branson communicate with her “directly.”

27. Even after the January 2020 email exchange from Branson, which Harris responded to, Harris did not comply with the request to complete the form W-9.

However, the two Commissioners allegedly were remiss in reimbursing JMAA for travel funds: 

Ms.  Branson  engaged  in  other protected  activity  as  well,  including  questioning  the business purpose of a side-trip by the Vice Chair Martin from Maui to Honolulu (trip was taken in January 2020) and preventing the unlawful reimbursement of travel expenses for CEO candidates to   legal  counsel  (occurred  in  January  2020  on  a  December  2019  legal  services  invoice  from JMAA’s general/legal counsel). Additionally, Branson maintained accurate accounting records for travel  advances  which  revealed  that  both  Vice-Chair  Martin  and  Chair  Harris  were  grossly delinquent in returning unused travel advance funds to JMAA throughout the 2019 fiscal  year, not just advances from the Paris Air Show. These accounting records alerted the financial auditors to the matter, and the auditors proposed a corrective action comment recommending that the JMAA Board of Commissioners comply with JMAA’s travel policy inclusive of travel advances.

Ms. Branson  issued 1099 forms to the Commissioners at a January 2020 board meeting.  Martin and Harris had still not completed the W-9.  Harris refused to accept the 1099 at the Board meeting.  She allegedly said she did not want report the income because she was going to repay the money.  The CFO submitted all 1099's to the IRS and Department of Revenue. The discussion of the 1099's does not appear in the January Board minutes.

Predictably, Ms. Harris was not happy with the CFO.  She issued a February 5, 2020 notice for a special Board meeting to be held on February 10, 2020.  There are no minutes of the meeting on JMAA's website. The agenda includes "personnel matters."   

The complaint states the Board voted to fire Ms. Branson.  She claims CEO Paul Brown told her later that day that she was fired because Ms. Harris was  not happy with getting a 1099 for her per diem payments.   The lawsuit includes this little tidbit: 

35. Brown added that Harris had met with Mayor Lumumba, and they wanted to maintain a very low profile with the press over the per diem payments.

The first count is a McCarn claim against JMAA.  Although Mississippi is an "at-will employer" state, the McCarn decision says allows an employee to sue for wrongful termination if the employer terminates the employee for reporting or refusing to participate in an employer’s criminal acts."  The second count accuses Harris of acting outside of her scope and duties as Chairwoman to fire Branson because she had a personal interested unrelated to JMAA business.  The plaintiff alleges retaliation in the third count.  She seeks reinstatement, 200% of back pay, attorney's fees, and punitive damages.  

Attorneys Mike Farrell and Joel Dillard represent Ms. Branson. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

Kingfish note: The summons was served upon Ms. Harris at the April 22, 2021 Board meeting.  The Street Committee says things didn't go so well for the poor schmuck who accepted the service of process.  Make no mistake, Ms. Harris may be Vice-Chairwoman now but she is the real power on the Board.  The Mayor's father appointed her and Mayor Lumumba reappointed her when her term expired. 

It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit fares in court.  Judge Reeves has been quite the friend to JMAA in the takeover fight with the state of Mississippi.  Will he continue to be JMAA's friend in this one as well?


48 comments:

Anonymous said...

After the 5th Circuit reverses and renders on the SB2162 lawsuit, the new Metro Area Regional Airport Authority Board will look and behave differently.

Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

I can't blame her for getting mad when denied a good opportunity to cheat on her taxes. All criminals hate it when not allowed to continue their chosen crimes.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to skip out on my parking payment next time because I plan to come back and repay it later.

Anonymous said...

35. Brown added that Harris had met with Mayor Lumumba, and they wanted to maintain a very low profile with the press over the per diem payments.

Solid Gold!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for always speaking truth-to-power Kingfish.

Anonymous said...

Chowkey wants to keep it quiet? ROFLMAO Maybe LaddFraud can help him walk that one back too.

Anonymous said...

it’s okay when white ppl do it for 140 years but by god KKKingfish will make sure no African-American ever benefits!

Anonymous said...

Check out the contracts and who the “lucky” contract recipients are and who they are connected to... Tip of the iceberg

Anonymous said...

JMAA commissioners have been gaming per diem for 140 years? Say it ain't so.

Anonymous said...

Just a bunch of crooks. No different from the people breaking into cars and houses.

Anonymous said...

10:40 its not okay for ANYONE to do it. Do you think black people shouldn't be called out for abuses of power simply because whites have done it in the past(and continue to do it)?

Anonymous said...

Apparently the new West Concourse Project for Southwest has been messy and not construction debris either.

Anonymous said...

Would like to see the details in the $50,000 Paris expenses. I imagine they didn't spend a lot of time dining at a five-star McDonalds.

Anonymous said...

The IRS might want to look into Chairman Robert Martin's milage per diem. Instead of flying or getting a rental car (which would be cheaper and save public funds), he drives his own car to get paid the milage. He has done this on numerous occasions. Examples: Las Vegas and Florida for starters.

Anonymous said...

Hate to burst bubbles but the entire MS legislature and most appointees abuse per diem.

It's not about what color the people are or even where they were educated or what their IQ may be. It's about the corruption that is systemic in the laws of Mississippi.

But, the use of race and religion is how you get the wool pull over your eyes.

Anonymous said...

This is WHY the state needs to assume it.
That crew the City of Jackson, has there does not know when to quit STEALING.

Anonymous said...

10:26 AM
When is that ruling supposed to be published?

Kingfish said...

It will be awhile.

What happens is Reeves rules for Jackson. State appeals. 5th reverses. Jackson files more BS motions. Reeves rules for them. In state wins appeal, rinse repeat.

The Mayor is pretty confident since Biden won as he thinks the FAA won't approve a change of certificate just as he don't think EPA will do anything to Jackson over water.

Anonymous said...

140 years. Tell me what all happened in the late 1800's going forward. When was commercial air travel a thing? Per diem started to be a thing when? "Come on mannnnn"

Anonymous said...

"35. Brown added that Harris had met with Mayor Lumumba, and they wanted to maintain a very low profile with the press over the per diem payments."

Conspiracy to commit tax fraud? Anyone?

On another note, the appeal to the lowest common denominator is tired and old. Just because someone, somewhere, at some point in time, did something and apparently got away with it does NOT mean I have a right to do it.

Anonymous said...

If you want some additional insight to JMAA's operations, go and check out Othor Cain's recent Facebook posts. Martin, Harris, Brown and Campbell-Lewis are totally incompetent. Regardless of if the State takes over or not, these folks need to go.

Anonymous said...

I just read the post on Orthor's Facebook page. One atty has said she has several former employees she's representing and the cases stalled. Marcus Wallace(MAC Construction) says the story is just beginning. I wonder if he has a certification shingle on his wall for that one? I do know they have hired foresters and loggers to cut timber off the airport property to help pay for some of the "upgrades". I know of one who has walked off they job because of who they had to deal with. Seems they are going to rape and pillage the airport then walk away and let the state take over. That's the vibe I am getting.

Anonymous said...

Well say bye bye to Southwest

Anonymous said...

This is just one thing they’re doing illegally. They’ve completely taken over the procurement process, so there’s no separation of duties. The inmates are running the asylum and have been for years. I just wonder when Shad White is going to step in.

Anonymous said...

Harris is subject to state and federal laws whether she and others like it or not. There were two other employee Ms. Church and others who followed an employer to DFA I believe and some went to jail! Just like any financial loan it must be paid in a timely manner. No one is above the law. State should take over, hell Lumumba can’t even get water except when it is donated FREE !

Anonymous said...

10:55 Yes. Yes, that's exactly what 10:40 means.

Anonymous said...

I shake my head every time I read the words in a comment "but so-and-so did it". That's the line my toddlers gave me when they were caught doing wrong.

Anonymous said...

BUT BUT Josh’s mom lets him have Oreos before dinner, why can’t I?!

Anonymous said...

JMAA makes their employees sign a non-disclosure agreement. Does anyone else think that is odd for a public intuition to do that? I thought public agencies were suppose to be clear and transparent with citizens. What's to hide, Rob and Lawanda?

Anonymous said...

This is OUR airport.

Anonymous said...

Maybe 10:40 can start a blog that will finally give that magical and perfect amount of attention to both black and white skinned criminals.

Since all folks of substantive IQs can agree that ALL crime is wrong...So surely that is your goal and not to ignore crimes committed by minorities?




Anonymous said...

10:40 thinks KF is the problem for reporting the crimes.

Not the criminals that committed the crime.

That, my friends, describes the current moral decline trajectory of the US rather aptly.

Wow said...

Man. This is disgusting.

Anonymous said...

From someone who has worked 10+ years around the airport it’s amazing how accurate your post is kingfish. Also comments are spot on, but 1251 hit the nail on the head. DOCTOR Lewis is a personal and professional pawn for the vice chair. What happened to the civil rights case that was filed against her by the company that ran the food and drink service last year? You know she had her hand in that one.

Anonymous said...

Paris? That’s so last year... they are going to Dubai this year. Going to be twice the cost of Paris.

Anonymous said...

@2:47
Having visited both Paris and Dubai in the last decade myself. I can safely say that the only difference between the two is that the buildings are older in Paris, and you will see fewer burqas in Dubai.

Anonymous said...

Driving one’s own car and collecting mileage reimbursement when flying and renting a car would be cheaper is also against state law. I doubt Biden’s IRS will touch this. Don’t forget that Benny will probably protect them.
The state auditor needs to do a complete fraud audit. What a mess. I commend the person who would not cooperate with their tax fraud schemes. It took courage to do what she did. A state agency should hire her.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just my imagination, but there seems to be a lot of cross-pollination between Atlanta corruption and Jackson corruption. Do they have a private Facebook page or something?

Anonymous said...

Ms. Branson can end up with a nice check from the IRS if she sends in a Form 211 and the IRS assesses and collects the taxes due.

Anonymous said...

"The IRS might want to look into Chairman Robert Martin's milage per diem. Instead of flying or getting a rental car (which would be cheaper and save public funds), he drives his own car to get paid the milage. He has done this on numerous occasions. Examples: Las Vegas and Florida for starters.

May 7, 2021 at 10:59 AM"

This is really not something the IRS would be interested in (unless he inappropriately claimed some expenses on his federal taxes). Likely more falls in the state auditors purview or whoever is responsible for approving the voucher for the city.

Anonymous said...

If a state employee knowingly lies or covers up fraud on forms while submitting them for a superior the employee can be held accountable also. Ms. Branson showed great courage in Doing the Right thing!

Anonymous said...

As Donald Trump found out last month, a public employee cannot be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Something about the pesky First Amendment.

Anonymous said...


LaWanda D. Harris
Vice-Chairwoman

Commissioner LaWanda D. Harris is a Registered Nurse and has worked in the Healthcare field for nearly 20 years. Over the course of her career, she has attained a wealth of knowledge and experience on a variety of issues relating to public affairs.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Science and a Master’s Degree in Health Services Administration from Mississippi College. Commissioner Harris is an active member of Eliza Pillars Registered Nurses of Mississippi where she holds the positions of Immediate Past President (at the District level) and Chairperson of the Project Committee (at the State level). Through this organization, Commissioner Harris is involved in a variety of community outreach projects and activities, including annual health fairs, public health initiatives, and mentoring programs.

Commissioner Harris is actively engaged in the community both as a community activist and leader as evidence by her involvement in the Women for Progress of Mississippi, Inc.

Commissioner Harris is passionate about fostering sustainable economic growth in Mississippi’s Capital City and its Airports; Jackson- Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and Hawkins Field Airport. She views effective transportation policy and infrastructure as critical to the success of the Greater Jackson region.

Anonymous said...

It's all about "gettin' over". There are so damn few really good chances in dead-ass Jackson government to "run yo game". The airport is just about all that's left. Paris? Dubai? Per diem? "Gettin' over". Stop hatin'.

Anonymous said...

Anyone want to bet there will be another retaliation firing and lawsuit for who ever recorded the Othor Cain Facebook video of Lawanda Harris sleeping on the job? Anyone that knows Lawanda, knows that she will over react and be crazier than normal. Ain't gonna be fun around for awhile.

Dorsey Carson said...

A disgruntled ex-employee alleging that per diem is taxable does not make it so. Per diem is not taxable unless it exceeds the federal rate. $40 is less than half the federal rate. If the CFO didn't know that, then is it any surprise that she was terminated?

Anonymous said...

Board members who receive more than $600 per year as compensation should receive an IRS 1099 form from the nonprofit organization and should file it along with their annual tax returns.

Sounds like this matter is about daily compensation titled as per-diem, not travel per diems which are two totally different matters and should be handled differently.
Surely,JMAA Board members were reimbursed for travel per diem/expenses more often than not.

If Branson reported per diem "compensation" on form 1099, then she was correct to report.

Anonymous said...

And now they fight among themselves like dogs over a chicken bone.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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