FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Charles and Linda Bolton were convicted of a combined 14 tax crimes for filing false tax returns and tax evasion, related to their two businesses, Sports 22 and Hall Avenue Package Store.
On Monday, Charles Bolton sat down for an interview with WDAM 7 News to tell his side of the story regarding the recent convictions, and the Forrest County Jail.
During testimony in the Boltons' federal trial, documents showing roughly $270,000 worth of checks being cashed, with no proof of where it ended up.
"There was only cashed checks for a friend, there was never any catering done for those cashed checks, that was simply cashing checks from a business for a friend," said Charles Bolton. "He had a situation where he did not want his officer manager to know his business, and he asked Linda and I to cash his checks which is perfectly legal."
The "he" being referred to, is long time Hattiesburg attorney, John Lee, who is also a longtime friend of the Boltons.
"Little did I know that he was deducting them from his tax return, and we did not know that, but we never catered one party for attorney Lee, not one," said Bolton.
Bolton said had he known the checks would be claimed on taxes like that by Lee, he never would have cashed a single check for him.
"Checks would have had to be written to support the effort of these catering parties that was claimed on the deductions of John Lee," said Bolton. "If you'll look at the amount of checks, almost two-thirds of our sales for the year, one person, if you'll look at it, it was over $240,000 to Sports 22 Café for catering."
"When you talking about $240,000 worth of goods going out, you would have had to write checks for at least $200,000, you don't make that much profit on food," said Bolton.
The case that led to the conviction of Charles and Linda, started with the investigation into the Forrest County Jail.
Top agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service made claims that the Boltons had stolen over $700,000 worth of food from the jail and used it in their two businesses.
WDAM 7 News asked Bolton the question, "so no food was ever taken from the Forrest County Jail under your watch or by you?"
"No sir, there was never any food taken from the Forrest County Jail by my wife and I," said Bolton. "What we did, we pretty much used the same company that the jail used because those are the standard companies that…. you know…. the service provider for pretty much everybody that have a restaurant."
"So when we would have an event, not that many, but those that we had, the food was purchased by us, we can back it up…that we got receipts, Corner Market, Big Star was our primary receiver, yeah we dealt with Sysco, we dealt very little with Merchants Company," said Bolton. "What's really surprising, we haven't don't any business with the Merchants Company, then I see all this stuff running about gumbo and all of these things."
Bolton said there was never supposed to be any items like that, that would only feed one or two people, referencing the purchase order for seafood gumbo, with a signature by Allen Haralson, a former Jail Kitchen Supervisor at the jail.
Haralson was one of two convicted in the jail food investigation, he died in December 2014.
Bolton said that Haralson was never monitored or policed in how he did his job or the things he did involving the jail.
WDAM 7 News asked Sheriff Billy McGee, who was present for the interview, "no food was every taken from the Forrest County Jail, right?
"It hasn't been shown to me that it was," said McGee.
WDAM 7 News asked, "You conducted your own investigation internally, correct?"
"That's correct," said McGee.
WDAM 7 News asked, "And then was anything discovered from that?"
"No," said McGee.
McGee said he spoke with Haralson, and asked him if he was guilty.
"I asked Mr. Haralson if he was guilty, and he said yes, I got greedy, I said well tell me how y'all did it, and he said my attorney told me that if I talk to anybody that the deal is off," said McGee. "So he said I can't talk to you sheriff."
Bolton said the issue with the $700,000 in food was directly tied to the $2 buffet that was at the Forrest County Jail.
"Going on for the history of the Forrest County Jail, ever since I was associated with it, for some 40 years there's been a buffet, hadn't had but two sheriffs, and it was designed for the employees that worked at the jail because they couldn't leave," said Bolton. "Well over the years, it evolved into the board of supervisors eating there every day, district attorney's office, judge's office, justice court offices, maintenance with Forrest county, Forrest County Supervisors, city of Hattiesburg policeman, MBN, MBI, everybody, every agency in this state ate there."
Bolton said there was a substantial number of people on the line each day.
"It was at least 75 meals per day, and I'm telling you, eating out of the buffet, and on that line, there was all of these pork chops, there was chicken, you can go find out from them, it would be several of them," said Bolton. "Yes there was catfish served on that line, yes sir, it was a pretty hefty buffet."
Bolton said he and the sheriff both worked to curb the cost, as well as get a handle on the number of people eating and who paid, all of which he stated was documented.
Bolton said one time they even welded the back door to the former jail, to stop people from slipping in without paying. He also said that the food used on the buffet as well as for Christmas parties, and county events, things including events at the Juvenile Detention Center or Forrest County Work Center were directly tied to Haralson.
"Yeah…yeah….other events, just about every event over there…and we didn't keep up with Allen and manage him, I mean they would call Allen direct," said Bolton.
Bolton said they didn't receive any amount of the $273,000 in chased checks for any type of parties or anything.
"Charles and Linda Bolton did not receive, $273,000 in cash for parties, ah our business….we couldn't do that kind of volume if we needed, if we had to," said Bolton. "Convicted, indicted, and pretty much lost everything that we worked for, for our life….over a lie told to the agents that those checks were for parties, it went from supplies, if you'll look on the list, supplies, so it goes from supplies to liquor and catering….which one is it, you wrote it off, you charged it off as supplies, pencil paper file cabinets, paper clips, maybe they was gold plated, but Linda and I, we don't sell supplies."
Bolton said the entire investigation was politically motivated and was sparked after the 2013 Hattiesburg Mayoral Election and involved the position of his brother, former Hattiesburg Police Chief Frazier Bolton.
"It was personal, it was politically motivated, and the feds and the state were used to come after the sheriff's office," said Bolton.
Maggie Hancock, caterer for Sports 22, also joined Charles for his interview on Monday.
Maggie said only two things every entered Sports 22 from the Forrest County Jail, and it was connected to one day when they had issues with their equipment.
Hancock said she called Haralson and got a "big pan of corn bread and banana pudding" and that he billed her $51 or $61 for the catering, but that was all.
"Nothing has ever came from that jail house to me, cause the food they serve down there I would not give to my customers…I got a reputation and I intend to keep it, you know, and I sell good food," said Hancock.
Phil Hull, retired IRS Special Agent who is working with the Boltons also attended the interview and spoke on the topic of Manheim Auto Auction checks, as well as how the Boltons taxes were handled, by Nicholson & Company.
"If it slips by you for a year, ok…5 years, and you never pick up the phone, there's no correspondence saying hey Linda… I got a 10-99 from Manheim says its taxable income…..but your booking says otherwise, what say you…. never happened," said Hull.
Hull said he couldn't comment and didn't know why only one witness was called to the stand to testify on behalf of Bolton, but that he was ready to testify as a witness.
Bud Holmes, one of Boltons attorneys also joined in on the interview.
"Oh it's a complete witch hunt, the whole thing was politically motivated 100 percent, people had to be in the right place at the right time to trigger the investigation," said Holmes. "Had you not had the john Lee checks in there it would not have met the threshold to allow a tax prosecution."
"As we speak right now, not one person that's took as much as a loaf of bread to Sports 22… Allan told me that he never knew of one that that ever went to the Boltons," said Holmes.
Sheriff Billy McGee also stated that he was also filing a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for the aspects of the investigation to be conducted and completed, so the county and people can put it behind them. He said he will be sending the letter this week.
In a motion filed by the Boltons for a request for "stay" moving the date the Boltons are set to report, asking for a date in August was denied by District Judge Keith Starrett. They are set to report this week according to court officials.