Jackson State provides foundation for agent’s FBI career

Scott Lawson, a storied FBI agent who helped break a multimillion dollar money laundering scheme by one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels, traces the roots of his career to Jackson State.

A basketball player, he wanted to further his athletic ambitions while taking basic undergrad courses. He hadn’t picked a major, so he felt Jackson State would be a good fit and a good bargain for the prerequisite classes he would need to take. After earning an associate degree in computer networking in 2002, he left for Middle Tennessee State University.

“JSCC did an excellent job both in preparing me for the workforce and preparing me to excel in my studies at a four-year university,” Lawson said. “My instructors at JSCC really took a hands-on approach, actively assisted in helping me obtain internships, and seemed concerned in my career progression.”

His transition from Jackson State to MTSU was flawless, he said, and all of his classes easily transferred. “The teachers at JSCC challenged me in a way that made me feel prepared to take the next step in my education. Also important to me was not wasting money at MTSU for the first two years of my degree while being unsure of what my future major would be.”

Lawson ultimately pursued a degree in criminal psychology at MTSU. His father was in law enforcement, and he decided he wanted to serve his community in a similar manner.

“My ambition guided me to the FBI because I wanted a professional atmosphere in which I could investigate and track the most heinous of perpetrators.”

His background at Jackson State gave him a well-rounded resume with computer science training, which is beneficial for federal employment. Jackson State also helped him land an internship that turned into a two-year position as a network administrator, which helped as he was recruited by the FBI.

After joining the FBI, Lawson was assigned to Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border and tasked with investigating drug activity. In January 2010, Lawson was asked to check out a tip about the sale of a horse. It led to a massive investigation that exposed a money laundering scheme by the brutal drug cartel, Los Zetas.

Lawson helped determine that the cartel used the lucrative quarter horse racing industry to hide millions of dollars in drug money as it bought, bred and raced its horses. The cartel also fixed races.

The investigation resulted in the June 2012 arrest of Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of cartel leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, and the seizure of millions in assets from the Morales’s farm. Ten people, including Jose, were convicted on charges related to the case. Miguel was arrested by Mexican authorities a year later.

The success of the investigation garnered several national news stories and inspired a couple of books. A movie with actor Channing Tatum is also in development.

Alumni Profile: Lori Gambill

Lori Gambill enrolled at Jackson State to further her career. She was a teller for 17 years with BancorpSouth and took advantage of a company program that reimbursed employees for good grades.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Bethel University, and became a trust officer at the bank. She recently received her Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA) certification, which is the industry’s recognized standard of excellence.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today had I not gone to Jackson State,” Gambill said. “The night school was perfect. For me being a full-time employee, it was excellent. Jackson State was great. It’s basically a big family where everyone is willing to help you out. Everybody wants you to succeed.”

Alumni Profile: Monte Jones

Jackson State Community College is a family tradition for 1983 alumnus Monte Jones, who attended the school while he decided which career path to follow.

Jones, president of Commercial Bank & Trust, enrolled after high school. He worked as a night manager at a grocery store and wanted to keep his job as he gauged the next steps of his education. The classes at Jackson State were flexible, he said, allowing him to attend school during the morning and work at night.

“It helps you decide what you want to be and get a taste of college life,” Jones said. It’s a good learning environment, and it gives you a chance to get your education started.”

It provides students with a good education, and they can live at home, he said. And the classes sizes are small compared to larger schools in the area.

“I developed relationships and friendships with teachers that still last today,” Jones said. “I learned a lot from them.”

After his associate degree in 1983, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Union University and a master’s degree in business administration from University of Memphis.

He’s been a banker for more than 30 years and president of Commercial Bank & Trust for the past 10 years. And, he continues to champion the school. His two daughters also have Jackson State degrees.

“I am proud to say I am an alumnus of Jackson State Community College,” Jones said. “You just can’t beat the value of a great education at a low cost. My daughters and I started our education on a solid foundation and have gone on to successfully pursue further degrees. Jackson State is a great school and a proud tradition in our family.”

Alumni Profile: Bruce Milton Cole

Bruce Milton Cole graduated from Humboldt High School in 2005 as a shaky, mediocre student. Today, he is finishing his Ph.D. in Spanish literature at the University of Tennessee after finding support from several teachers at Jackson State Community College who showed him how to succeed.

“Jackson State was basically where it all began for me,” Cole said. “It was my cradle. It’s something I’ll always carry with me. My professors gave me the tools to get where I am, and I think those tools will last a lifetime.”

Cole failed seventh grade, and earned average grades throughout high school. He was distracted and didn’t want to do the work. Although he was intelligent, he was a mediocre student, and his grades were inconsistent.

“I was not doing the best I could do,” he said. “As a student, I was basically lost.”

His performance was a reflection of his environment. Most people he knew never left Humboldt, but he wanted more, so he enrolled in Jackson State because it was nearby.

“I knew I wanted something, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

He took an important step by enrolling, but he continued to perform poorly during his first two semesters. The environment at Jackson State was different from high school, though, and he found teachers willing to provide him with a one-on-one experience.

“The more I got to know some of the professors personally – not just as professors, but as genuine people who wanted to see me do well – the better I did academically,” he said. “Many professors there helped me tremendously to realize my goals and my self-worth.”

Professors such as Teri Maddox, whom Cole called his guiding light, and Mary Wadley, Kim Warren-Cox, James Mayo, Michelle Camp, Claude Bailey and Tim Britt turned his academic career around.

“They were always willing to help me,” he said. “They expected something of me, and I think that is very important.”

Throughout his journey at Jackson State, he also found encouragement from his parents, Theresia Hobson-Cole Jones and Bruce Milton Cole, Sr., who never went to college themselves. They were very supportive of his efforts, especially Cole’s father, who often gave him advice about endurance.

In 2008, Cole graduated from Jackson State with an associate degree in English. He overcame his anxieties about finishing school, and he continued to perform well academically.

He enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University where he changed his major to Spanish and earned his bachelor’s degree in two years. “I finished exactly when I should have finished.”

Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis in Spanish from Middle Tennessee State. After that, he entered University of Tennessee’s Ph.D. program, studying Spanish literature. He has one year to go.

When he finishes, Cole wants a professional career in academics. He wants to provide other struggling students with the tools they need to succeed.

“I plan to teach. I plan to do research. I like to think there is a place somewhere for me at a college like Jackson State where students may need that one-on-one teaching approach.”

Cole can identify with students searching for consistency in their performance and he can provide a unique perspective as a professor.

Looking back, he said he is grateful for his Jackson State experience, and he would recommend the school for anyone in Tennessee looking for an education.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way,” he said. “If you want to get there, even if you don’t where that is yet, Jackson State will get you there.”