Authorities Arrest Four More Supervisors in Probe; Total Now 26
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Federal agents arrested four more county supervisors Thursday in an expanding federal investigation into contract kickbacks, bringing the number charged to 26.
Another supervisor, Billy Joe Harris of Lauderdale County, was arraigned in U.S. District Court on additional bribery, extortion and mail fraud charges related to Operation Pretense, a two-year federal undercover investigation of corrupt county purchasing practices. Harris pleaded innocent to the six-count indictment.
Former Greene County Supervisor Lauvon Pierce and Hattiesburg salesman Ray Davis changed pleas to guilty on mail fraud charges in the case.
Three of those arrested Thursday - Wayne County supervisors Jimmie T. Duvall and Alfred Grant Revette and Perry County Supervisor G.F. Mixon Jr. - pleaded innocent before U.S. Magistrate John R. Countiss III. He set a $5,000 personal recognizance bond for each.
Federal agents arrested Greene County Supervisor George I. Smith on Thursday afternoon.
Four other supervisors were arrested Wednesday after a federal grand jury hearing testimony of official corruption returned eight sealed indictments Tuesday.
The arrests began Feb. 12, after federal officials acknowledged a two-year undercover investigation into bid-rigging that involved Mid State Pipe Co. of Carthage.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Phillips said the 61-year-old Davis, owner of Davis Chemicals of Hattiesburg, also cooperated extensively in the investigation.
Davis, who has also changed pleas on separate charges in the state’s northern federal court district, said he gave improper payments and cooperated in a scheme to deliver less than the state amount of merchandise to cooperating officials in at least 17 Mississippi counties.
Phillips urged delayed sentencing for Davis and Pierce, who resigned April 1 after an indictment charged him with accepting $730 from Mid State. Pierce is also cooperating with authorities.
Under a plea agreement, federal officials will urge that Davis serve no more than three years in prison. But federal attorneys will make no recommendation on the amount of a fine. Davis must not do businesses with any Mississippi supervisor after probation under terms of the agreement.
A similar agreement was reached with Pierce, 48, an unemployed Leakesville construction worker.
Federal officials say they will present more evidence to grand juries in both federal judicial districts in the next few months.
Four vendors and a county road foreman also have been arrested.
Officials say the undercover investigation in Mississippi could be as devastating to county governments as a similar investigation into Oklahoma corruption, which prompted the convictions of 111 incumbent commisioners and 51 former commissioners from 1981 through 1985.