3 Mississippians plead guilty in bribery case

3 Mississippians plead guilty in bribery case
Department of Justice

Gulfport, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the Department of Justice:

Linda Harvey-Irvin, 62, of Jackson, Donald Walton, 51, of Vicksburg, and Markuntala Croom, 45, of Columbia, pled guilty on Thursday, February 19, before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden, to bribery involving the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency (GCCAA), a non-profit organization that is partially funded by federal grants, announced U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis, FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway, Acting Special Agent in Charge Jerome McDuffie with IRS – Criminal Investigation, and Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering.

According to the Indictment in this case, Harvey-Irvin was the deputy director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, located in Gulfport. Harvey-Irvin accepted bribes from Walton, owner and operator of Walton Construction, in exchange for construction contracts worth more than $400,000. Harvey-Irvin was also charged in a second indictment with accepting bribes from Markuntala Croom, owner and operator of Croom Consulting, in exchange for awarding over $520,502 in consulting work to Croom.

According to the indictments, Walton paid Harvey-Irvin $31,000 in kickbacks as a reward for his contracts, and Croom paid Harvey-Irvin $69,911.49 in kickbacks as a reward for her contracts. During the time period covered by the indictments, the GCCAA had received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. Between 2009 and 2011, more than $7 billion in federal AARA funds were awarded in Mississippi to eligible non-state agencies, not-for-profit organizations and government entities.

"Federal funding for non-profit entities like the GCCAA are intended to provide critical support for children that need access to early education and for families that need help acquiring the basic necessities of life," said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to hold accountable those who take advantage of their stewardship of federal grant monies, and choose to enrich themselves at the expense of their government and those in need."

Donald Alway, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Mississippi, stated: "These guilty pleas are the result of a well-coordinated investigation and prosecution by the FBI and our law enforcement partners. We are committed to protecting taxpayer dollars and protecting government programs designed to assist those who are truly in need."

Acting Special Agent in Charge, Jerome R. McDuffie, IRS – Criminal Investigation, stated: "The embezzlement of funds from agencies meant to serve the public good is not taken lightly. Linda Harvey and her co-conspirators stole hundreds of thousands of dollars that were earmarked for public service to the children enrolled in the Head Start early education program. IRS- Criminal Investigation is proud to have been a partner in this very important investigation, and is committed to continuing to work with our law enforcement partners to help put an end to public corruption."

Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering stated: "By April 2010, an investigation was launched by the State Auditor's Office into the use of funds awarded to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community Action Agency (GCCAA). It is very sad that money intended to serve as an economic stimulus for that community turned into a slush fund for personal gain." Pickering said another high-profile state-federal case involving the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) ended last November when nine defendants, including the Executive Director, pleaded guilty. "The amount of funds mishandled by GCCAA and DMR are examples of the importance of state and federal officials working together. One public dollar taken illegally is one too many," Pickering said. The DMR case involved the civil demands of more than $1.5 million dollars.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Sul Ozerden on May 7, 2015 beginning at 9:00 am in Gulfport, Mississippi. Each of the defendants faces up to ten years in prison, a $250,000 fine and the forfeiture of the proceeds of their crimes.

This case was investigated by the Mississippi State Auditor's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Scott Gilbert.