HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - State Auditor Stacey Pickering is explaining the details of the alleged fraud scheme that led to the indictment of Hattiesburg preacher Kenneth Fairley and Artie Fletcher.
"There were multiple levels of how they were working the scheme," Pickering said. "They were receiving HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) grants through the city of Hattiesburg as a sub-grantee, and they were supposed to be refurbishing and rehabbing houses in at-risk neighborhoods for low income families. It helps low income families get a leg up. It helps refurbish, stabilize at-risk neighborhoods. The problem was they weren't always doing the work. They were falsifying documents, pocketing some money, and in some cases, I believe it'll be shown when this goes to trial next month, that we had family and friends living in the house not low income families that these HUD grants were intended for."
Pickering said a taskforce of agents from his office and other state agencies has been investigating this case for over a year.
"We started uncovering 'OK, who owns this home? Where did this home get to? How did it get in possession of the nonprofit run by Rev. Fairley? Wait a second, it got into possession, but the work may or may not have been done," Pickering said. "Then it just kind of unrolled, and then we wind up as we work the investigation getting to the end of the day with these six counts indictments."
Pickering said the investigation is ongoing, and more indictments and the amount of money allegedly defrauded from the U.S., currently around $170,000 according to Pickering, could increase.
"As far as locally, you're looking at other individuals that may have been part of this scheme or are the peripherals of it taking advantage of it that personally enriched themselves that should be held accountable," Pickering said. "You do know that there are some other individuals that we may not have the evidence and the facts on beyond a shadow of a doubt at this point in time, but there's likelihood that we could. Those are some known individuals, and in cases of this nature where you're dealing with so many falsified documents, moving pieces, different companies, there could be and individual or two that we may or may not know actually existed as part of this scheme at this time."
Pickering said he did not have a number of people who could be involved in the future.
"Not right now," he said. "Not that we're willing to talk about at least."
Pickering said he is confident the charges in the indictment will be upheld in court.
"Rev. Fairley, Artie Fletcher will have their day in court, but I'm confident the facts of that we've put forth before the grand jury will be upheld," Pickering said. "We're looking at mandatory jail time, I think, in both cases. I don't think it's a question of are they going to jail. The question will be on how many counts and how long."
Fairley's attorney, Stanford Knott, maintains his client is innocent.
"He's not a criminal whatsoever," Knott said. "We have documents as well that show the good faith efforts that Mr. Fairley has done and made in the community."
Pickering said, "I don't think anyone minds helping the needy, but whenever somebody's making themselves rich off of it, then we have a problem. Ultimately at the end of the day, that's what this investigation are going to hold these individuals accountable for defrauding the taxpayers and betraying the trust that their local community put into them. Public corruption can't be tolerated in Mississippi at any level. Especially when you're dealing with federal dollars coming in that are supposed to be going to our at-risk neighborhoods, our most vulnerable members of our community, and the money's being skimmed and scammed and is not winding up taking care of those most needy people that these HUD grants were intended for."
Fairley and Fletcher are scheduled for trial on April 18, 2016.