Auditor probes planes' transfer
from staff and wire reports
April 19, 2003
JACKSON Investigations into reported wrongdoing at the Mississippi National Guard's Meridian-based 186th Air Refueling Wing stretched from Washington to the Mississippi Coast on Friday.
The state auditor's office confirmed it is examining a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics report into allegations that two bureau aircraft were transferred at the request of a former aide to U.S. Sen. Trent Lott. The planes were kept at the Meridian-based 186th Air Refueling Wing at Key Field.
MBN director Frank Melton said he asked auditors to investigate allegations that include aircraft transfers to the Harrison County Sheriff's Office and Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, gifts of seized weapons and the misuse of funds.
The allegations, some of which make a connection with the office of Lott, a Republican, are included in an MBN report obtained by The Meridian Star and The Associated Press. The report, dated April 17, is based on an internal MBN probe, including interviews with a confidential source said to have knowledge of the activities, identified only as "C.S."
Melton confirmed Friday the preliminary investigation concluded this week and, reportedly, has briefed Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on the findings.
There will be full disclosure," Melton said. "I feel very strongly about that. Let the chips fall where they may.''
The report is an internal memo that summarizes MBN investigating agent Roy Sandefer's interviews with people believed to be knowledgeable of the allegations.
It includes details of the 1999 transfer of a Beechcraft King Air to the Harrison County Sheriff's Department and the 2000 transfer of a Cessna 206 to the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission.
The King Air, valued at approximately $800,000, was obtained by MBN from the State Surplus Property Department, then transferred to Harrison County at no cost, according to the source cited in the report.
The plane's transfer was facilitated by Col. Robert Earl Pierce, a former employee of MBN who became head of the Mississippi Air National Guard's 186th Air Refueling C-26 counter drug unit, which is based in Meridian, according to the report.
Pierce, who now heads the Mississippi National Guard's federal counter drug programs, could not be reached Friday for comment.
The MBN document cites a source that says Pierce arranged the transfer for political favors. He arranged it at the request of former Lott aide Robert Maxwell, who was the contact person to go through for Trent Lott."
Trent Lott wanted an airplane in Harrison County and there was none available and Earl Pierce volunteered MBN's King Air,'' the source said.
Lott spokesman Lee Youngblood said Friday that neither Lott nor members of his staff had seen MBN's report. He said Lott's office had not been contacted by MBN as its agents prepared the report.
It's really difficult to comment on something you haven't seen,'' he said.
What is the issue here?'' Youngblood asked. The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics appears to be investigating itself. This is a state agency that signed off on the transfer of planes to a local entity."
To get the plane, MBN transferred two helicopters valued at about $150,000 each to the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department, which had been first in line to receive the King Air from state surplus, the source told MBN investigators. The bureau received nothing for the transfer, the report said.
Youngblood said that if MBN believes the transfer should not have been made, then it's up to that agency to reverse that decision.''
The Cessna was to be transferred to Hancock County the next year for drug surveillance, according to the report. Instead it was flown by Maxwell, the MBN report alleged. It was also leased out for "fish spotting."
MBN took back the Cessna last year. The bureau then gave it to Delta State University because a state lawmaker's son, who was enrolled in the school's flight program, had complained to his father about the poor condition of the university's aircraft fleet,'' the report said.
State Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, arranged to give the Bureau of Narcotics $150,000 in additional state money for the transfer of the plane, the report said.
Maxwell, who now works with the U.S. Department of Justice's Police Corps, said he would not comment on the investigation.
The MBN's internal investigation also showed that several individuals fraudulently applied for overtime. They turned in reports, signed by agency official Jimmy Saxton, that said they were flying over Mississippi in December and January looking for marijuana. But marijuana plants don't grow in December and January,'' the report said, quoting C.S.''
Saxton also promoted a civilian employee in exchange for helicopter flight lessons and allowed thousands of dollars in bureau money to be spent on personal items for employees, including leather jackets, tools, boots and sunglasses, the report said.
I did not have authority to do the things I've been accused of and have been cleared of the allegation regarding fraudulent overtime by the state auditor's office last year,'' Saxton said.
The MBN's report also cites its confidential source as saying Pierce gave Gen. Frederick Feinstein, while he was commander of the Air National Guard's 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian, weapons seized in drug arrests.
The source said Pierce also gave Feinstein MBN aircraft instruments, including a fuel flow meter, for his private plane. The report said a guardsman aircraft mechanic installed a fuel flow meter belonging to the Bureau of Narcotics in Feinstein's private plane, a Cessna 310, that he has since sold.
Feinstein was promoted to Mississippi deputy adjutant general for air and transferred to Jackson in 1996. He retired in 1998.
Feinstein, who hired Pierce in 1996, denied the allegations Friday and said he knew nothing of the MBN report. He also said he had not been contacted by the Narcotics Bureau.
I think this is a witch hunt,'' Feinstein said. It's totally untrue."
Meanwhile, a Florida Air National Guard staff judge advocate continued his investigation into the 186th amid allegations that include discrimination, coercion, racism and record falsification.
The second investigation is headed by Col. Ken Emmanuel, an African American officer and staff judge advocate of the Florida Air Guard. A U.S. Air Force Inspector General report completed in December substantiated similar allegations.
Two officers at the 186th, including its commander and a chief assistant, have been allowed to retire with full pensions but no other disciplinary action has been announced.