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, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden for bribery involving the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, a non-profit organization, partially funded by federal grants, which runs the Head Start Preschool in Gulfport, announced U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis, FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway, Special Agent in Charge Jerome R. McDuffie with IRS – Criminal Investigation, and Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering.
Linda Harvey-Irvin was sentenced to 85 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay $531,236 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service.
Donald Walton was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and a forfeiture judgment in the amount of $31,000 was entered.
Markuntala Croom was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $531,236 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service.
Harvey-Irvin was the deputy director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, located in Gulfport. She 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. 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.
U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis praised the efforts of the federal and state investigative agencies who worked on this case. "The sentences handed down today are fitting for the violations committed by these defendants, said U.S. Attorney Davis. "This office will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to prosecute those who choose to violate federal laws.
"Fraud of this kind diverts precious taxpayer dollars and jeopardizes the strength of a program that serves the most vulnerable members of our society," stated Donald Alway, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Mississippi. "However, as this case demonstrates, the FBI and our law enforcement partners are aggressively fighting back to protect the U.S. taxpayer and the integrity of our federal assistance programs."
Special Agent in Charge Jerome R. McDuffie, IRS – Criminal Investigation, stated: "We are pleased with the sentences handed down by the court in this matter. It should send a strong message to Mississippians and federal taxpayers that the theft of taxpayer dollars will not be tolerated. Linda Harvey- Irvin and her co-conspirators also represent an example to others who are engaged in the acceptance of kickbacks, that public servants, and/or the individuals who bribe them, are not above the law. In fact, they are held to the highest legal and ethical standards. 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 the money intended to serve as an economic stimulus for that community turned into a slush fund for personal gain." "The funds mishandled by GCCAA is an example of the importance of state and federal officials working together. One public dollar taken illegally is one too many," Pickering said. "The sentences handed down today show that my office, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, and the IRS, will not tolerate this type of behavior by those entrusted with taxpayer funds."
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.