Monday, May 1, 2017

Her Finest Hour

JJ was going to write an editorial endorsing Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler as it did four years ago but decided instead to tell a story that took place twenty years ago.




Once upon a time some Madison County good ole boys hooked up with a foreigner, meaning in Mississippi that he was from the midwest, to scam the taxpayers out of a few million dollars for an, amusement park for the handicapped. The scamsters promised to invest several hundred million dollars in the project while the county would guarantee a multi-million dollar loan to purchase the land. What could possibly go wrong? When all was said and done, the deal collapsed, the scamsters were exposed, and someone went to jail. They would have stuck the hard-working families of Madison County with the bill if Mayor Mary had not said not just no but hell no to this farce. The battle she fought to stop this fraud was probably her finest hour as Mayor of Madison.

A Larry Foley blessed Madison County with his presence in 1995 as he represented Kountry Tyme, a non-profit sports foundation created to supposedly help the handicapped. Forget about moonlight, magnolias and mint juleps. This guy swooned the Madison County elders with promises of jobs while investing hundreds of millions of dollars in an amusement park for the handicapped. Poor people and poor states have something in common: they are easy prey for get-rich quick schemes and Madison County was no exception to this unfortunate fact of life.

The Madison County Economic Development Authority and its attorney Bob Montgomery* got down on all fours and barked whenever Mr. Foley told them to do so because he swore that he had investors lined up and ready to invest in Madison County. The deals were made in executive session. John Wallace gave him his blessing while the Godfather of Madison County, Bob Montgomery*, forgot the meaning of due diligence The Queen questioned the deal as a member of MCEDA but was outnumbered by the good ole boys. They shoved her to the side and voted for the deal when she wasn't present. The good times were coming to Madison County and they didn't need any questions for a pesky female Mayor. MCEDA even borrowed $3.65 million to purchase 1,923 acres near Lake Caroline from Southern Farm Bureau to use for this deal. Kountry Tyme was going to invest $300 million. Why should anything else matter?

However, this little scheme took place when the Clarion-Ledger actually engaged in investigative journalism. Josh Zimmer proved to be a crackerjack reporter as he did Bob Montgomery's job for him without charging his hourly rate. The newspaper discovered that Mr. Foley was convicted several times for fraud. He lived in a Days Inn in Springfield, Missouri.

Kountry Tyme was supposed to pay $281,000 annually to MCEDA but didn't even make the first payment of $135,000. The Clarion-Ledger then reported in January 1996 that Mr. Foley served prison time for fraud in the 1980's. Kountry Tyme never actually showed any proof of any financial backing despite claiming it had investors for the project. Indeed, Mr. Montgomery completely missed Mr. Foley's convictions. The newspaper reported on January 15, 1996:

A search by authority attorney Bob Montgomery last fall only uncovered a $21,000 settlement against Kountry Tyme. Montgomery said he was not aware of an additional $34,000 settlelment against Kountry Tyme, and intentions by an investment company to foreclose on the Wichita property because of an outstanding $200,000 debt.

The fact that the so-called criminal records were discovered by the newspaper and not by the people dealing with Kountry Tyme indicates to me we don't need taxpayers support for the theme park said Floa resident Robert Box.

John Wallace still wanted to move ahead with the project because it would "create 4,200 jobs", actual proof be damned. Kountry Tyme also had a local guy, Gene Sartin, promoting its interest. However, the newspaper reported Mr. Foley had made similar pitches in other states and told some mighty tall tales about whom his investors were. Names such as Walt Disney, Richard Nixon, and General William Westmoreland were used. One official said "we told Mr. Foley to hit the bricks."

Things got really squirrely when Mr. Sartin was arrested for conspiring to use "threats, force, and intimidation" against Mayor Mary and Mark Bounds, who also opposed the project as a member of the MCEDA board.

The scheme continued to unravel. It turned out (p.24) that Mr. Foley owed $250,000 to the IRS. Ouch. Mayor Mary then asked a simple question: Who is Kountry Tyme? MCEDA member Tom Johnson didn't care: "I don't give a damn (with apologies to Clark Gable) who is in Kountry Tume if they are going to bring jobs to the people of this county." Then there was the race card. It isn't Mississippi politics unless someone plays the race card. The defenders of this deal starting accusing Mayor Mary and others of trying to keep jobs from blacks. You can't make this up.

The newspaper also reported that Mr. Sartin was bankrupt and that Mr. Foley served time in prison twice and had ten, yes ten, federal convictions (p.28), but hey, they are bringing 4,200 jobs to Madison County. Kountry Tyme also never identified any actual investors or proof it had funding for anything. Remember, this guy is living in a Days Inn hotel. The Days Inn address was the corporate address for Kountry Tyme.

MCEDA finally turned its cap around six months later and started backing away from the deal. It wound up foreclosing on the property after Kountry Tyme missed its first payment. The county tried to sell the land but no one bid for it. It eventually sold the land to a shrewd developer. MCEDA sued Kountry Tyme in federal court. The con artist didn't appear in court several times but did appear when he was facing criminal charges. Funny how the possibility of jail has sobered up many a wayward mind.

The feds indicted Larry Foley for fifteen counts of fraud and other offenses a year later. Gene Sartin flipped and testified against him in exchange for immunity from prosecution. It turned out that Foley was "penniless" (p.67). He could tall tales came back to haunt him as George "You're Fired, You're Hired" Steinbrenner and NBA Basketball coach Larry Brown testified against Mr. Foley in court. It seemed the defendant fraudulently used their names to further his fraud. U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate sentenced him to serve ten years in prison after he pleaded guilty.

Mayor Mary's reward for saving Madison County's ass was a kick in her own butt as the board kicked her out (p.79). The Clarion-Ledger blasted MCEDA and told the real story:

Frankly, it smacks of a coup to get Hawkins off of the board because she does not go along with other board members on matters she does not deem good for Madison County.

It was Hawkins who blew the whistle on the ill-fated proposed Kountry Tyme theme park. That catastrophe was born in a secret 1995 deal for 1,923 acres of land, which for months left Madison County taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars...

Hawkins objected to the deal and publicized the highly suspicious nature of the whole thing. As a result, she was ostracized by some authority members and harassed by an agent of the developer.

In the end, she was right....

If anything, Hawkins should be applauded for her efforts to keep this project and others in the public spotlight and to hold this board publicly accountable.

And that, my friends, is the bottom line.

Kingfish note: Think about this one for a second. A broke man living in a Days Inn in Missouri walks up to Madison County officials and promises to build a $300 million amusement park for the handicapped if the county will purchase a piece of land for several million dollars. He shows no proof of financing or any other financial information but they all jump up and say sure. Hell, why shouldn't he have tried to work this scheme if they were that dumb?

Oh yes, Then-State Auditor Phil Bryant said he was watching the deal but would not investigate even though the PEER Committee asked him to do so. Leadership, baby.

Of course, if they were not that dumb, then the other answer to this puzzle is that some crooked politicians were trying to rip off the taxpayers with a scheme that blew up thanks to one Mayor and a newspaper.

How many other mayors or politicians in this area would stand up against this sort of scheme? Too many of them would be trying to get their buddies plugged in so they could all "get paid". Stopping this scheme was perhaps Mayor Mary's finest hour as the Burgermeister of Madison.  Can anyone imagine her opponent doing the same thing?


*Have you noticed that the only two attorneys whose offices burned down in the last few years were Bob Montgomery and Fred Harrell? Just a coincidence.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems popular to constantly revisit the sermons of a deceased preacher, write about the trying times of a corrupt Gold Coast from fifty years ago and whether Kane Ditto or did the most for the city of Jackson...and now Madison issues from two decades ago.

There's enough corruption in the Metro counties that's current and ongoing to fill several boxcars and require about forty FBI agents if they'd just do their jobs.

Not that the Mayor of Madison needs or could benefit from a Kingfish endorsement, but there's certainly enough going on right at the minute to sway Madison elections and county politics and all the barometric and compass needles point in one direction. At least Jim Prince is ON IT!

Anonymous said...

Next up.....The Ed Cates Story.

Anonymous said...

Don't like her one bit...But, RESPECT the hell out of her! That is what really matters, imho.

Anonymous said...

MARY HAWKINS BUTLER loves the City she serves so well. Who is this guy from Gluckstat that wants to be Mayor? We all understand that he is a has been who was married to Senator Lott's daughter. She saw through him as I truly hope all the residents of Madison do tomorrow at the polls.

Anonymous said...

It is a blog and it is successful. Furthermore it is the o/c :;) brainchild of Mr. Fish!
I, and many others, enjoy the history and the sarcasm as well as the current news coverage,

Anonymous said...

Another habituated JJ whiner @ 11:38 AM.

Get OFF your ass and start your own gig whiner.

May 23, 2007

Anonymous said...

12:02...That's nice. But, as with many reporters and, ah, correspondents nowadays, it's really really easy to google up old shit and post it and call it news. It entertains 'some people' and that may be the objective. Living in the moment and dealing with current evil isn't always popular and is rarely easy. That's one reason so many stay stoned.

Anonymous said...

A guy named Sartain trying to pull the wool over someone and land is involved? Shocker. Is this part of the "Heritage"?

Anonymous said...

Mary in an electoral romp.

Anonymous said...

Can you see Lumumba taking a similar stand to protect HC or Jackson from someone wanting to build a social justice amusement park for minorities?

No worries. The CL has just endorsed him for Jackson mayor. That's why no one reads that paper any longer. Still, someone needs to hold that editorial board accountable in four years.

Anonymous said...

12:19
We all "live in the moment", otherwise we are dead. History always repeats itself; not literally but figuratively. It might be helpful to keep that somewhere in your obviously brilliant mind.

Anonymous said...

It is almost too late 12:19 but you can still get help for your drug addiction problem.

Anonymous said...

Stop with the anonymous posts KF. Ruins your credibility. Um, thanks.........

Anonymous said...

I would love to see donations to what campaigns were made from Trustmark executives who facilitated this deal and earned commission. Kickbacks Yaahya!

Anonymous said...

for 12:19: Sartin is not related to the local Sartain family and Sartain's Heritage Properties. They don't even have the same last name (check the spelling).

I've gone in front of the supervisors hundreds of times in the last 25 years. They give more respect to an out-of-town crook with no money in his pocket than they do to a local, respected businessperson who has lived in this county for 100 years, and wants to invest in it. I see it every day with the way they treat the locals who built this county.

Anonymous said...

Mary, Gene and Arnel all deserve reelection.

Anonymous said...

I moved to madison after the fact and moved out recently. Please update me on what the hell this is all about! Thanks

PittPanther said...

Struggling to understand how Foley planned to make money on this deal. Southern Farm made money, by selling the land to Madison County. Madison lost money presumably by selling that same land to a developer. But Foley needed to come up with six figures almost immediately, which he couldn't do. What did Foley expect to happen?

Anonymous said...

I have dealt personally with Mayor Hawkins-Butler and I like her. Just wish we had her as mayor of Jackson. Could you see the potential?

Anonymous said...

1:51 PM; Either give specifics or you're farting in a whirlwind. You sound so mistreated. Are you sure you don't feel victimized as well?

If you've appeared before the Board hundreds of times, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that you're not representing nefarious characters and crooks. You just can't handle the competition.

Kingfish said...

In case you haven't noticed, newspapers and tv stations tend to produce more light-hearted fare on the weekends. A little bit of history never hurt anyone. Funny I should have to say that in a state where people can't let go of the past. The Gold Coast is an interesting and little-known bit of local history and no one has really gone through the newspaper archives and compiled the stories together. Don't like it? Get over it.

As for this post, I decided not to write a standard editorial but instead focus on something that happened twenty years ago and is pretty much forgotten today. It showed a Mayor standing up to the good ole boys and conmen.

A shame we didn't have someone do that on say....The Beef Plant or Kior.

Anonymous said...

KF, a halfway good post, until of course your closing sentence. We all know you don't like, hate, despise, any other word one can find, Bob Montgomery. Your efforts to do whatever to drag him into a deal, whether he was a member of the board, an attorney, or passing by when a city council was meeting is always appreciated. But please make the connection with his office burning and the above story.

Can't do it? Then if you can't put up, don't make such accusations. Has anything been claimed to be missing from this, or any other, deal due to the fire? Unlike the Rankin County lawyers whose offices 'flood' and they lose financial records, those problems have shown up in court. I don't remember seeing anything about documents missing due to either of these two fires. But of course, that takes out a good story line when facts don't matter.

Anonymous said...

The Ed Cates story is much more interesting than all these others combined. It has never been solved and never will be.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:04 pm: "Living in the moment", in this case, refers to the evil and corrupt empire of Warnock in Madison County, as opposed to selling bootleg whiskey in Niknar sixty years ago.

One should be covered/exposed and met head on with assistance of the media. One is useless trivia and the other is going to consume us if we don't kill the rats and fumigate.

Jackson is lost. Madison County is not yet lost.

Anonymous said...

Then, by all means, get started 6:25. Stop wasting valuable time complaining. Start digging, reporting, covering and exposing.

Anonymous said...

Look at the campaign finance report filed. Who is one of "Matt's" biggest contributors?? Rudy "im just an honest engineer trying to make a living" Warnock!

Micah said...

So if Mary win does this mean free tacos from Taco bell? Never mind it's a slow morning.

Anonymous said...

Micah: Where else but in Madison can you find two Mexican restaurants, facing each other, directly across the highway from each other (not counting Juarez or Pearl). And, no. Mary is not responsible for your tacos. Or your Moon Pies.

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