Pete Halat

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Halat's mugshot from his 1997 arrest.

Peter J. "Pete" Halat, Jr. (Born July 27, 1942) is an American politician and the twelfth mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi.[1] In 1997, Halat was convicted for his involvement in a criminal conspiracy which led to the murders of Vincent Sherry, Halat's former law partner and a Mississippi judge, and Sherry's wife Margaret, a Biloxi city councilwoman, ten years previously.[2] He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison, of which he served 15. Pete Halat was elected mayor in 1989 and lost a re-election bid in 1993.[3]

The FBI investigation (led by agent Keith Bell, now retired[4]) eventually ended the city’s long tolerance for wide open, illegal gambling and striptease clubs with allegedly exorbitantly priced drinks.[5]

Biloxi is home to legal casino resort hotels, with 24-hour gambling, concert entertainment shows and restaurants.[6][7][8][9]

Some Biloxi casinos.

History[edit]

Pete Halat and Vincent Sherry became law partners in 1981.[3] Sherry was appointed a circuit judge in 1986.[2]

Dixie Mafia killings[edit]

Kirksey Nix was involved in the 1987 murder-for-hire killing of Judge Sherry and Margaret (both 58) in Biloxi.[5] In the hopes of earning enough money to bribe his way out of prison, Nix was running a dating scam targeting homosexual men, where he would pose as a gay single man and entice them into a relationship, only to concoct fictitious stories for needing money, such as being in trouble with the law and having to pay hefty legal expenses, and needing additional money so he could come and move in with them. The operation was run from both Nix's prison cell in Louisiana and Sherry law office, which at the time was Pete Halat's legal office, by Nix's girlfriend Sheri LaRa Sharpe after Vincent Sherry left to become a judge.[5]

Nix's co-conspirator Halat had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Nix to cover financial difficulties and blamed it on Vincent Sherry. Kirksey Nix believed his claim and ordered the deaths of Judge Sherry and his wife. Thomas Holcomb was hired by Nix to murder the couple in their home.[4]

Conviction[edit]

On October 23, 1996, Halat was indicted on federal charges related to his involvement in the 1987 murders of Vincent and Margaret Sherry. At the time the FBI believed that the two were killed on Halat's orders after he thought that Judge Sherry was stealing from a bank account Halat kept for an imprisoned client, which held funds from Kirksey Nix's "Lonely Hearts" dating scam targeting gay men.[10] It would later turn out however, that Vincent Sherry had never stolen money from Kirksey Nix's dating scam and that it was in fact Pete Halat himself who had stolen upwards of $100,000 U.S. dollars from the Lonely Hearts scam. When Nix was enraged over noticing the amount of missing money and arranged for Pete Halat to visit him in prison and demanded an explanation from him, Halat quickly blamed Judge Sherry for the theft of the illicit funds and the two quietly agreed to have Judge Sherry and his wife murdered. Shortly thereafter, Kirksey Nix ordered the deaths of Vincent and Margaret Sherry for the alleged theft of his money, and the Dixie Mafia's leader on the streets, Mike Gillich, hired a hitman from Texas named Thomas Holcomb to commit the two murders. Thomas Leslie Holcomb was given the handgun with a homemade silencer which he used in the killings by Kirksey Nix's girlfriend Sheri LaRa Sharp, who in turn had received the gun from an enforcer for the Dixie Mafia named John Ransom who told her to give the gun to Holcomb for the hit on Mr. and Mrs. Sherry.[5]

Halat was later convicted in 1997 of conspiracy to commit racketeering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison.[3][11]

Rehabilitation and release[edit]

Halat was released in 2013 after 15 years, 9 months and 7 days in jail at the age of 70 years old.[12][3] He then worked at a church in Hattiesburg the remainder of the year.[13] Halat still maintains he had no part in the murder plot.[14][5]

Co-conspirators[edit]

Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr. (born 1943) is serving life imprisonment in Angola State Penitentiary.[4][15] Mike Gillich died of cancer in 2012.[4] Thomas Leslie Holcomb, a Texas-based contract killer, was convicted of carrying out the killings and died in prison in 2005.[4] John Ransom, a Dixie Mafia hitman who supplied the gun used in the murders of Vincent and Margaret Sherry, and Sheri LaRa Sharpe, Kirksey Nix's girlfriend who worked as a legal aid and helped him run his Lonely Hearts dating scam while he was in prison, where he would place fraudulent ads in the national LGBT magazine The Advocate pretending to be a young single homosexual man in legal trouble who needed money, were convicted in 1991 on federal conspiracy charges related to the two murders.[16]

Media portrayals[edit]

A 1999 episode of The FBI Files details the FBI investigation of the Dixie Mafia, Pete Halat, and Kirksey Nix and his Lonely Hearts scam. It is also featured in Season 1, episode 5 of Unusual Suspects.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The full-time mayors of Biloxi". www.biloxi.ms.us.
  2. ^ a b "The Justice Story: The Dixie Mafia Murders".
  3. ^ a b c d "Former Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat released from halfway house, ending sentence in murder plot".
  4. ^ a b c d e Ballou, Howard. "Sherry murders shocked gulf coast 30 years ago".
  5. ^ a b c d e "An 'ice cold' murder conspiracy ended Margaret and Vincent Sherry's lives 30 years ago".
  6. ^ "Tentative re-opening plans for Biloxi casino resorts" (2006), City of Biloxi, www.Biloxi.ms.us, webpage:Biloxi-Casinos.
  7. ^ "Isle of Capri selling Coast casino for $45M to Golden Nugget - Mississippi Business Journal". Msbusiness.com. Retrieved 2017-05-02.
  8. ^ Perez, Mary (May 22, 2012). "Margaritaville Biloxi opens with a concert heard 'round the country". The Sun Herald. Gulfport, MS. Archived from the original on May 25, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
  9. ^ Margaritaville Casino closes in Biloxi Retrieved 2014-11-02
  10. ^ Washington Post, Archives. "Charge in Judge's Slaying".
  11. ^ "The Dixie Mafia". Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  12. ^ Staff, WLOX. "Halat sentence is over; Family screams "free, free, free"".
  13. ^ "Pete Halat working at church in Hattiesburg - Law.com".
  14. ^ "Pete Halat - The Mississippi Link". themississippilink.com.
  15. ^ "Mississippi takes "Dixie Mafia" inmate - Picayune Item". www.picayuneitem.com.
  16. ^ New York Times, Archives. "Biloxi's Tale of Murder, Extortion, and Racy Photos".