Natchez company must pay up

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2010

NATCHEZ — A Jackson social worker has pleaded guilty to exploiting residents at a nursing home owned and operated by a Natchez company.

Ponchie McCollough, 37, of Jackson was employed at Belhaven Senior Care in Jackson, which is owned by Trend Consultants LLC of Natchez.

McCollough on Wednesday pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit crime of exploitation of vulnerable persons and five counts of felony exploitation of vulnerable persons, according to a press release issued by the state attorney general’s office.

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McCullough confessed to Judge Swan Yerger that she had swindled Belhaven residents out of several thousand dollars and used her job to have checks written to other co-defendants from the residents’ trust funds under the guise of spending down their money so that they would not lose their Medicaid benefits.

The proceeds from the checks were to be used on the needs of the residents, but were instead divided between the conspirators.

Trend Consultants, 323 Highland Blvd., was legally liable for the residents’ trust fund, and was required by the attorney general’s office to replace the $25,785 to the residents’ individual accounts. In addition, Trend Consultants is being required to pay the state a $77,355 penalty of for failing report possible exploitation of vulnerable adults within the facility.

Yerger sentenced McCollough to five years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections for the conspiracy charge and 10 years for each of the exploitation charges, fours years of which were to be suspended. Five years of supervised probation will follow.

The sentences will run concurrently, meaning McCollough will serve six years. She has been jailed since her arrest last November, and will receive credit for time served.

McCollough is required to pay $8,100 in restitution to Belhaven, as well as paying $1,000 to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, which is to be paid during the five-year probation period.

McCollough has agreed to testify against five co-defendants in the case — Brad Burt, Jessica McKinney, Madeleine Floyd, Justin Johnson and Tina Brewer.

Johnson, a Natchez resident, is the director of operations for Trend Consultants. He declined comment Thursday.

Brewer, a Vidalia resident, is the billing specialist for the company.

Charles Bruce Kelly of Natchez owns Trend Consultants.

If McCollough does not testify, she will face additional penalties.