Mississippi U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst Announces His Departure from Department of Justice

Jackson, Miss. – Mike Hurst, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, announced today that he has submitted his resignation to President Donald J. Trump and Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen and will leave the Department of Justice on January 19, 2021.

“Serving as the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer for over half of our state has been the highest honor of my professional career. During my time as U.S. Attorney, I have tried to do everything within my power to make our neighborhoods safer, support our law enforcement, engage and empower our communities and citizens, protect victims, prevent and reduce crime, and uphold our constitutional rights. The secret to the success of this office is its people – hard-working, tenacious, and full of integrity, they are committed to seeing that justice is always done, every day. I wish them all the best in their continued service to our fellow man and to this noble work,” said U.S. Attorney Hurst.

“Mike Hurst is the ultimate public servant. He has routinely taken on tough fights in order to preserve the rule of law – because he believes in it. He has been a champion for the people of Mississippi, and we wish him well in his next adventure,” said Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves.

“Mike Hurst has served the people of Mississippi with honor and distinction as U.S. Attorney,” said United States Senator Roger Wicker. “He’s a talented lawyer and dedicated public servant. I wish him well in his next chapter.”

“Mike Hurst has served as the consummate U.S. Attorney, serving Mississippi and our nation extremely well. Like so many in our state, I am grateful for his achievements in the Southern District of Mississippi to prosecute crimes and to bring special focus on fighting human trafficking and illegal drug trafficking. I wish him and his family all the best as he leaves office,” said United States Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith.

“The Mississippi Sheriffs Association offers its gratitude to Mike Hurst for his service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. Since October 2017, Mike has faithfully served the State of Mississippi and supported Mississippi law enforcement officers. The Mississippi Sheriffs Association appreciates his service to Mississippi and the United States and wishes him the very best,” said Jasper County Sheriff Randy Johnson, President of the Mississippi Sheriffs Association.

“It is imperative the many levels of criminal justice to work as a team to be successful. Having worked with U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst for nearly 4 years, I have seen firsthand his passion to put swift, fair and just efforts into providing justice for victims. Mike is a law enforcement-minded person and he has always been there to stand on the front lines with Mississippi law enforcement. His criminal prosecution of the worst in Mississippi should be commended and our communities are safer because of his efforts. The men and women of law enforcement who combat evil in Mississippi send their sincerest best wishes to Mike and know the best for him is yet to come,” said Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal, President of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police.

“As District Attorney of the 15th Judicial District, it is my pleasure to commend and thank Mike Hurst for a job well done during his tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. Mike began the Project EJECT program a few years ago, which targets the investigation and prosecution of violent crime in the Pine Belt area. Through this program, Mike and his prosecution team have created an effective collaboration between federal authorities and state and local agencies, and they have successfully brought many serious offenders to justice. This contribution has assisted my office immeasurably in efforts to ensure public safety in my district, and I appreciate his leadership in this pursuit,” said Fifteenth Circuit District Attorney Hal Kittrell, former President of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association.

CRIMINAL

Southern District of Mississippi Ranked First in Nation for Indictments by Medium-Size Offices in FY19; Most Federal Indictments, Federal Defendants Ever Prosecuted in One Year in Mississippi History

In Fiscal Year 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi indicted just 188 cases. U.S. Attorney Hurst was determined to change that. Knowing this office, and the capacity it had to do even more, Hurst increased prosecutions by Fiscal Year 2019 to 522 indictments, a 178% increase and almost tripling the number from just three years before. Those 522 indictments encompassed 641 federal defendants – the most ever in the history of the state of Mississippi. And this number places the Southern District of Mississippi as the number one Medium-size district in the nation for indictments and prosecutions.

Shortly after becoming United States Attorney, Hurst was named President of the Greater Jackson Law Enforcement Officers Association in February 2018. Through this group, U.S. Attorney Hurst brought federal, state and local law enforcement together in the greater Jackson metro area to hear from a variety of speakers and increase their coordination and collaboration in their fight again crime and in keeping citizens safe.

Violent Crime

Project EJECT

With violent crime on the rise in Mississippi and throughout the nation, U.S. Attorney Hurst launched Project EJECT in Jackson in December 2017. Project EJECT, the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s initiative under the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) and Project Guardian programs, was a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to fighting and reducing violent crime through prosecution, prevention, re-entry and awareness. In its first year in Jackson, overall violent crime fell by 7%, including a 50% reduction in carjackings alone, resulting in 108 fewer victims of violent crime in our capital city in 2018.

Recognizing the success of Project EJECT, and the need for more affirmative enforcement of our civil laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions allocated five brand new Assistant U.S. Attorney positions to the Southern District of Mississippi, more than many other, larger districts throughout the nation. Four of these positions were to combat violent crime, and the other position was to increase our affirmative civil enforcement work.

Because of this ground-breaking, collaborative and innovative work to reduce violent crime, Project EJECT was recognized and awarded in December 2018 as one of only two Outstanding Overall Partnership/Task Forces by the U.S. Department of Justice among all 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the entire country.

In February 2019, Project EJECT was expanded into Hattiesburg, Natchez, Meridian and Moss Point, with Gulfport joining the list in September 2020. EJECT stands for “Empower Justice Expel Crime Together.” For the first time in its history, the U.S. Attorney’s Office assigned a full-time federal prosecutor to each of these areas with responsibility to carry out Project EJECT and reduce violent crime. Project EJECT brought together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Likewise, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.

At the end of U.S. Attorney Hurst’s second year in office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi ended Fiscal Year 2019 ranked as the number one medium-size office in the nation for number of indictments (outpacing the other 24 medium-size U.S. Attorney’s Offices). That is an outstanding improvement in just three years, where the Southern District was ranked 19 out of 25 medium-sized districts in Fiscal Year 2016. Since FY16, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has almost tripled the number of federal criminal indictments throughout the Southern District of Mississippi, charging more defendants with federal crimes than has ever been charged before in the history of the State of Mississippi.

Operation Triple Beam

In June 2018, U.S. Attorney Hurst teamed up with the U.S. Marshals Service’s Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force, along with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, to conduct a six-week-long violence reduction initiative in the Southern District of Mississippi known as “Operation Triple Beam,” resulting in the arrests of 270 individuals for various crimes, including approximately 90 gang members, and the seizure of 50 firearms, illegal narcotics, and approximately $26,000 in cash. In addition, approximately 300 registered sex offenders were individually checked for compliance, resulting in approximately 20 arrests for sex offender registry violations. While the Marshals Service has conducted these types of initiatives elsewhere around the country, this is the first time Operation Triple Beam has been conducted throughout an entire U.S. Attorney’s district and is believed to be one of the most successful Operation Triple Beams of this scale that the Marshals have ever accomplished since the program began in 2010.

Domestic Violence and Operation Pheonecia

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Attorney Hurst recognized a rising trend of increased domestic violence throughout the country. In response to these national statistics, coupled with anecdotes from local law enforcement and nonprofit organizations, U.S. Attorney Hurst launched a new initiative entitled “Operation Pheonecia,” in honor of a local victim of domestic violence, Pheonecia Ratliff of Canton, Mississippi, to combat this growing threat. Under this initiative, and by working with federal, state and local law enforcement and nonprofit entities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has made the investigation and prosecution of federal domestic violence crimes a priority. In addition, “Operation Pheonecia” involves a campaign to put domestic abusers on notice of their prohibition to possessing firearms, train law enforcement on how to investigate federal domestic violence crimes, provide education for local judges as to the impact of their orders on potential federal criminal prosecutions, and bring awareness to local bar associations and the public on how to report domestic violence crimes to and work with federal authorities, with the overarching goal to reduce domestic violence, save lives and assist victims.

Opioids

On the cutting edge of prosecutions and investigations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi announced in October 2017 that it had indicted a Chinese national for conspiracy to distribute large quantities of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues and other deadly chemicals in the United States, marking the first manufacturer and distributor of fentanyl and other opiate substances to be indicted in the history of the United States while being designated as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT). CPOT designations are those who have “command and control” elements of the most prolific international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and are considered by DEA to be some of the most significant drug trafficking threats in the world.

Immigration

Astronomical Increase (1,482%) in Immigration Prosecutions in Three Years

In U.S. Attorney Hurst’s first full year, Fiscal Year 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office increased its number of immigration prosecutions by 536% from just two years prior (11 in FY16 v. 70 in FY18). However, the following year, Fiscal Year 2019, the immigration prosecutions increased another 149% from the just prior year (70 in FY18 v. 174 in FY19). This represents a 1,482% increase in just three years (from FY16 to FY19).

Largest Single-State Worksite Enforcement Operation in Nation’s History

In August 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, conducted the largest single-state worksite enforcement action in our nation’s history, executing multiple federal criminal and administrative search warrants at seven locations across the State of Mississippi, which resulted in the collection of evidence of federal crimes and the arrest of 680 illegal aliens. This was the most humane enforcement operation ever conducted by ICE, processing all 680 illegal aliens within an approximate 24 hour period and releasing approximately 300 aliens on humanitarian grounds and physically returning these illegal aliens, with ankle monitors, to the place where they were originally encountered.

As a result of this operation, 119 illegal aliens have been prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for federal crimes ranging from misusing social security numbers of American citizens, to fraudulently claiming to be a U.S. Citizen, to falsifying immigration documents, to reentering the United States after having previously been deported or removed.

Just one year later, in August 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted Managers, Supervisors, and Human Resource Personnel, charging them with Harboring Illegal Aliens, Assisting in Representing False Citizenship and Obtaining False Social Security Cards, Lying to Law Enforcement, Wire Fraud, and Aggravated Identity Theft. These prosecutions continue this office’s long, successful history of prosecuting employers for violating our nation’s immigration laws. [link]

Human Trafficking

Recognizing the growing threat and issue that is human trafficking, U.S. Attorney Hurst partnered with U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi, and Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshal Fisher to establish and launch a statewide, umbrella organization to tackle all facets of this crime – the Mississippi Human Trafficking Council. Led by AUSAs from both districts in Mississippi, as well as the Mississippi Human Trafficking Coordinator, the Council’s mission is to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute criminals through a partnership model using a victim-centered, collaborative, and multi-disciplinary model. The Council consists of a Steering Committee, five subcommittees to address various issues concerning human trafficking, and small, regional Task Forces, made up of local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement, local prosecutors, and victim service providers, and will be led by an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

In the Southern District of Mississippi, U.S. Attorney Hurst established five (5) Human Trafficking Task Forces covering every county throughout the district and led by an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Fraud and Public Corruption

Largest Healthcare Fraud Scheme in Mississippi History

For the last three years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been prosecuting business owners, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and many others relating to the largest healthcare fraud scheme in Mississippi history, which has come to be known as the “Compounding Pharmacy” or “pain cream scheme” case in Hattiesburg. This case involves close to $1 billion in fraud by defendants using pharmacies, doctors and unnecessary compounding prescriptions to drive up prices charged to TRICARE, the healthcare system for the military, and other insurance companies. The massive pain cream scheme, which began in Mississippi, has defrauded TRICARE and other insurance companies more than $1.5 billion nationwide, with a third of that fraud attributed to participants in Mississippi. To date, at least 25 have been charged in the scheme in Mississippi alone, and twenty have been convicted at trial or pled guilty, with others awaiting trial. In addition to prosecuting these criminals, the office has assisted in recovering millions of dollars and ill-gotten gains and assets through the forfeiture process. [link]

Largest Ponzi Scheme in Mississippi History

In 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted what is believed to have been the largest Ponzi scheme in Mississippi history. Arthur Lamar Adams was sentenced to almost 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud involving a large, multi-state Ponzi scheme involving more than $164 million dollars stolen from more than 320 investors located in at least 14 different states spanning a number of years.

Public Corruption

The office continued its storied tradition of bringing corrupt public officials to justice, whether businessmen bribing state officials, or spouses of public officials paying kickbacks, or state officials rigging bids for money or law enforcement officials committing extortion or wire fraud schemes, or correctional officers accepting bribes.

Civil Rights

Steeped in a hallowed history of effective enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws, the U.S. Attorney’s Office continued prosecuting those who would violate the civil rights of others, including law enforcement and correctional officers using excessive force [link] [link] [link], as well as those committing hate crimes such as crossburnings. [link] [link]

CIVIL

False Claim Act Fraud

In November 2017, one of the largest healthcare fraud settlements involving a nursing home in the history of the Southern District of Mississippi was resolved when a nursing home facility, its related companies, and their owners agreed to pay $1.25 million to resolve allegations of false claims to Medicare and the Mississippi Medicaid program for providing grossly substandard care to residents at the Oxford Health and Rehabilitation nursing home in Lumberton, Mississippi, from late 2005 through 2012. [link]

In December 2017, in what is believed to be the largest False Claims Act healthcare settlement in Mississippi history, Region 8 Mental Health Services agreed to pay the United States in excess of $6.93 million under the False Claims Act to resolve allegations that Region 8 was paid for services that it either did not provide or that were not provided by qualified individuals as part of its preschool Day Treatment program.

Free Speech, First Amendment and Religious Liberties

In December 2019, the office joined our colleagues in the Civil Rights Division in filing a Statement of Interest in a federal lawsuit brought by a student organization and J. Michael Brown, a former student at Jones County Junior College, explaining that public colleges cannot trample on their students’ First Amendment rights to free speech. Jones County Junior College’s policies required campus administrators to pre-approve all “meetings or gatherings,” and Mr. Brown alleged that college officials called the campus police on him when he sought to engage on campus with fellow students about topics such as free speech and civil liberties. Our Statement of Interest pointed to Supreme Court case law explaining that the First Amendment rights of speech and association extend to the campuses of state universities. While Jones County Junior College’s “extreme preconditions to speech might not be out of place in Oceania, the fictional dystopian superstate in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the Statement of Interest explains, “[t]he First Amendment to the United States Constitution . . . ensures that preconditions like these have no place in the United States of America.”

In April 2020, the office joined Attorney General William Barr, our colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Mississippi and the Civil Rights Division in filing a Statement of Interest in support of a church in Greenville, Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up. The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.[1] The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.

Protecting Our Military and Service Members

In June 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office accepted a settlement agreement with Syncom Space Services, LLC (S3) that resolved allegations that S3 violated the employment rights of Louisiana Air National Guardsman, Jason Cooper, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA safeguards the rights of uniformed servicemembers, including National Guardsmen, to all benefits of employment following periods of absence due to military service obligations. Cooper had applied for a promotion while he was deployed on active duty with the National Guard. Although Cooper had the most PT&I experience of all applicants, S3 failed to promote him to the position upon his return from deployment. As a result of the employer’s failure to promote him to a position that he was qualified for, because of his military service, Cooper lost promotional income and benefits. S3 agreed to pay Cooper for lost wages and to make his promotion effective as of the date on which he returned to work from active duty.

ADMINISTRATIVE

Over the past three years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi saved taxpayers more than $1.7 million dollars, returning this saved money from its budget to the Department of Justice, while at the same time accomplishing more than has ever been done in the history of our district.

Upon his departure from the Department of Justice, Hurst plans to join a law firm in Jackson, Mississippi.