HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg pastor Kenneth Fairley was found guilty on all counts of defrauding the U.S. government tied to money from the Housing and Urban Development agency.
Fairley, 62, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit theft of government money, and two counts of receiving, retaining, concealing or converting money that belonged to the government.
It took six hours and 20 minutes for a jury of 12, made up of seven women, and five men, with six black jurors and six white jurors to return the unanimous verdict.
During deliberation, the jury sent out a total of four letters to the judge.
At 1:19 p.m., the jury sent out their first two questions:
- Should the indictment read Kenneth Fairley Junior or Senior?
- Can we have a dictionary?
District Judge Keith Starrett informed them that the indictment had been amended and that they could not have a dictionary.
At 1:30 p.m., the jury sent out their third note:
- We need the proper definition of the word conspiracy.
Starrett referred them to jury instruction #9 which related to that charge.
At 4:03 p.m., the jury sent out another note:
- The note was not read, however, this prompted Starrett to read the “modified Allen Charge” encouraging them to reach a verdict.
At 5:21 p.m., the jury returned with a verdict.
While the verdict was read by the court clerk, the room was silent, Fairley's wife, who was seated directly behind him, was rocking side to side in her chair.
Starrett ordered the Marshals to take Fairley into custody and set a sentencing date for Nov. 21.
"My confidence was well placed in the staff of the auditor's office, the FBI, the IRS, HUD, and the prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office presented a great case, the verdict, they came in from the jury today and validated where that confidence was placed," Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering said.
During closing arguments, the defense took up 42 minutes, with attorneys Arnold Spencer and Betram Marks splitting their time to plead their case to the jury.
At one point, Marks quoted the bible with John 8:32, in his aggressive closing remarks.
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free," Marks said.
The government, Abe McGlothin and Jay Golden used 37 minutes of time, also splitting it and having the last word before sending it to the jury.
Golden referenced a recent trip he took, quoting what he saw on the outside of a courthouse in New York.
"The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government," Golden said. "No one is above the law; no man is beneath the law."
Pickering said, "We are going to hold these individuals accountable, it was a well put together case, of fraud against the public and the fact that these monies, hard earned taxpayer dollars were not deemed to meet the need for some of the most vulnerable members of our community."
Pickering added that his office has been working hand-in-hand with the FBI and IRS in this case, and others to come.
"We fight public corruption literally from the coast to the Tennessee state line and everywhere in between," Pickering said. "This is a high-profile case in Hattiesburg, letting folks know that it doesn't matter who you are at the end of the day, if you defrauded the public and you misspent, misappropriated tax payer dollars we are going to work hard to hold you accountable."
Judge Starrett remanded Fairley into the custody of the U.S. Marshals and he was transported to the Forrest County Jail and booked in.
Fairley's sentencing date is set for Nov. 21 at 2 p.m.
Fletcher, the co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty on Sept. 2 before Judge Starrett to misprision of a felony. His sentencing date was set for Dec. 19, with the maximum penalty being three years in prison with one year post-release supervision and up to a $250,000 fine.