No plea deal in Mississippi beef plant case

A federal judge has rejected a plea bargain

proposed by prosecutors for a construction company owner who paid

kickbacks to the operator of the defunct Mississippi Beef

processing plant.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers on Thursday said the plea

bargain for Sean Carothers was "overly lenient."

Carothers is president of Carothers Construction Co., which

built the Mississippi Beef Processors Inc. plant in Oakland in


The Oakland plant closed in August 2004, three months after it

opened, because of failed equipment and a lack of operating


The 140,000-square-foot facility, which employed 400 workers,

cost the state of Mississippi at least $55 million. Former plant

owner Richard N. Hall Jr., also pleaded guilty to charges related

to the its failure.

Community Bank, which financed the state-guaranteed loan, ended

up owning the defunct plant. Houston, Texas-based Windsor Quality

Food Co. bought the plant in June and has begun renovations.

In January, Carothers acknowledged paying Hall $173,000 and

helping Hall conceal the payments. Carothers agreed to pay

restitution to the state.

Hall pleaded guilty in January 2006 to state mail fraud charges

and federal money laundering charges. He has not been sentenced.

According to the court record, prosecutors had suggested a deal

that would give Carothers supervised probation with no jail time,

$250,000 restitution to the state auditor's office for

investigative costs and a maximum fine of $20,000. Carothers also

agreed to help federal investigators.

Biggers said in his ruling that the plea bargain "would not

serve the interests of justice and would be a radical departure

from sentencing guidelines for this case, and it is therefore


Biggers set a hearing for Aug. 1. He gave Carothers an option of

continuing with the sentencing hearing knowing that the plea

bargain wasn't accepted or withdrawing the plea and going to trial.

On Friday, Carothers' attorney Tony Farese declined comment on

Biggers' opinion without talking to his client.


Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal,