JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi inmate has been charged with running a jailhouse scam that bilked money out of other prisoners’ families by pretending to be an elected official or federal judge and promising to get early release for their loved ones in exchange for money, Attorney General Jim Hood said Wednesday.
Jebarious Neal, 27, of Hazlehurst, who’s in the Jefferson/Franklin County Correctional Facility in Fayette, is charged with false pretense. Records show he is already serving a 30-year sentence for burglary and larceny.
Tiffany McVane, 37, of Hazlehurst, was arrested as a co-conspirator in the case and is also charged with false pretense, Hood said. She is accused of picking up $5,000 from a victim. It was not immediately clear whether McVane has an attorney.
Hood said other arrests are possible, and he’s seeking information from people who believe they might have been victims.
Neal is accused of using a cellphone that had been smuggled into the jail and calling inmates’ families, pretending to be a public official and demanding they pay money into a fake state account with a promise that the inmate could get out early. Hood said in some cases, payments were demanded from relatives of people awaiting trial, with promises that the money would help the accused person avoid prison.
Hood said participants in the scam pretended to be a statewide elected official, a federal judge or state Rep. Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst. Hood said the statewide official and the federal judge are victims in the case and he is honoring their request not to be publicly identified.
“None of this is true, but, unfortunately, it makes people think the system is corrupt,” Hood said.
Hood said at least four people are known to have made payments in response to the scam, and there could be more. He said he thinks about $75,000 was paid.
Holloway said in a phone interview Wednesday that it is “very, very disturbing” that an inmate was pretending to be him and demanding money from people.
“It’s ridiculous,” Holloway said. “How do people get cellphones … that they can just sit there and call people every day and run a plot scamming people out of money?”
Mississippi Department of Corrections officials have conducted several shakedowns in state prisons in the past year and have found smuggled cellphones and other contraband items. Holloway said people running the jail need to be held accountable.
“Cellphones don’t have legs,” Holloway said. “They don’t walk into prisons. They don’t fly through windows. They don’t fall through ceilings.”
Holloway, recently elected to a fourth term in the House, said his wife is a distant relative of Neal. Holloway also said that several months ago, at the request of a friend, he asked the Department of Corrections to move Neal from the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Leake County to the Jefferson/Franklin County Correctional Facility so Neal could be closer to relatives.
“I never thought that something like this would ever happen in my lifetime,” Holloway said.
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