Bay St. Louis attorney gets prison for bingo embezzling in the Delta

Morgan Shands
Morgan Shands Hattiesburg American/2012

A Bay St. Louis attorney has been sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling more than $370,000 from a bingo charity in Cleveland, Mississippi.

Morgan Shands was sentenced Monday in Bolivar County Circuit Court on a guilty plea to conspiracy and embezzlement, Assistant District Attorney Leslie Flint said.

Shands is a former executive director of the state Democratic Party; has been a staffer for elected officials at state and national levels; and served as campaign manager for Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes’ unsuccessful bid in 2011 for lieutenant governor.

Circuit Judge Charles Webster sentenced Shands to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and 10 years on the embezzlement charge. Webster ordered the prison terms to run concurrently and suspended five years, leaving five to serve.

Shands was taken into custody after his sentencing at the Bolivar County Courthouse in Clarksdale.

A Bolivar County grand jury indicted Shands and his sister, Rachel Shands Buser, in March 2014. The indictment alleged they had embezzled more than $613,000 from the American Legion Post 1776 bingo fund in Cleveland while Morgan Shands oversaw the charitable operation’s finances.

Before the indictment, Shands signed an agreement with the Secretary of State’s Office to repay $370,117 over 10 years. Officials said he quit making payments after his indictment.

His trial had been re-scheduled several times since December 2014. The case against his sister is pending.

Shands had worked for Attorney General Jim Hood, former Attorney General Mike Moore, State Auditor Stacy Pickering and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker.

He also had worked on campaigns for Wicker , U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.

Shands was admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association in 1993 and had a law office on John Baptiste Street in Bay St. Louis. His status as an attorney is listed as “inactive” on the bar association’s list of lawyers.

Lawyers convicted of a felony are typically disbarred.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews