The last time Slabbed began chasing a lead that ended up uncovering a huge number of what I’ll term rabbit trails into the brier patch was the massive political corruption scandal in Jefferson Parish back in 2010. I mention this because earlier this year I received a tip which mentioned a significant ramp up of of FBI agents and resources in Mississippi with Jackson being ground zero. A few months later through a completely unrelated source and by happenstance I was able to confirm the first tip. The question to me then became one of the focus of the FBIs interests and we’ve been treated in the news to several tantalizing clues the most recent being our State Auditor according to the Clarion Ledger. I think we can piece several things together and arrive at a reasonable answer and to begin we start with a story today by Greg Gordon of McClatchy DC that appeared in today’s Sun Herald. Gordon’s presence on the scene is significant because he is the Sun Herald’s parent corp’s best financial fraud reporter and what appeared today makes a nice starting point for the coming Slabbed series on the construction of the Jackson County ADC:
In Waveland, federal auditors unnerved local officials by finding a contractor hired to build a temporary sewer system double-billed the city $811,000 for 379 pumps already covered by the contract and improperly charged $608,000 more for 290 more sewage-storage tanks that weren’t part of the agreement.
And who was this contractor?
Waveland’s predicament, however, underscores a central reality for watchdogs who have sought to ensure the fair and efficient expenditures of tax dollars: In Mississippi, one of the nation’s poorest states, most jurisdictions lack the money to repay questioned costs.
“There’s no way, practically, for (the city) to repay that money,” said Gary Yarborough, Waveland’s city attorney. The city’s population has dropped from 8,000 to about 6,000, and its fiscal year budget is $4.2 million, he said.
City officials told federal examiners they’d alerted state auditors years ago that the firm contracted to build the sewage system, Hemphill Construction Co. of Florence, had overcharged for the project. But FEMA has so far chosen to pursue the city rather than the company, Yarborough said.
Waveland’s appeal for relief from FEMA is pending. Hemphill’s president, Richard Rula, did not respond to a phone message.
Hemphill was ubiquitous in Hancock County in the years after the storm and there are reasons for that. The section of Central Avenue in Waveland between Coleman Avenue and Nicholson occasionally makes me question whether the company should have been in the road and infrastructure rebuilding business at all. At the end of the day the companies that seemingly came out of nowhere after the Hurricane to nab rebuild contracts traces to an old political feud between then Senator Trent Lott and then Prez Geroge Bush. Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor at the time. With the political players set lets hit the way back machine and set the dial for April 2006 and Bloomberg Business Magazine:
Cashing In On The Katrina Cleanup
The Mississippi Choctaw Indians are looking for another way to work Washington — this time, through the Pentagon. You remember the Choctaws: The wealthy tribe got national notice last year as one of Jack Abramoff’s biggest clients, paying the disgraced Republican lobbyist and his business partners more than $27.6 million to sway lawmakers on gaming issues. In Abramoff’s recent plea agreement, he admitted to bribing members of Congress by funneling millions from the Choctaws and other tribes through charities.
Now the Choctaws are poised to receive a $300 million no-bid federal contract for post-Katrina cleanup in Mississippi. They are bereft of Abramoff’s counsel: He was sentenced on Mar. 29 to nearly six years in prison and faces up to 30 more years for the charges involving the Choctaws. Yet the tribe has capitalized on contracting laws that favor Native Americans and on Congress’ political pressure to steer Hurricane Katrina cleanup cash to home state companies. According to e-mails and documents reviewed by BusinessWeek, top Republicans led by Mississippi Senator Trent Lott have been leaning on the Army Corps of Engineers to replace AshBritt Inc., the big cleanup contractor based in Pompano Beach, Fla., with smaller home state firms.
And beyond cleanup there was rebuilding to do and luckily for everyone there are several smaller companies in Misissippi that do nothing but infrastructure type work. Most of that work in Harrison County went to SH Anthony Construction. In Hancock County Hemphill was king. Sean Anthony, owner of SH Anthony currently awaits his sentencing related to a plea bargain he reached with Federal Prosecutors, which has been postponed until October along with that of former Harrison County Sup Kim Savant, who copped a plea to bribery charges involving Anthony.
Savant was also involved in the specious Tommy Cobb Ocean Springs High School dirt contract that Slabbed highlighted last month. Left on the cutting room floor at the time is the fact Slabbed New Media has confirmed via multiple sources the FBI has also been poking around that old contract. Mostly though, the G-Men have been poking around the Jackson County Adult Detention Center and with the benefit of hindsight I can understand why so I conclude today’s installment with April Havens circa January 2011 and her story New Jackson County jail option may be on the table:
PASCAGOULA, Miss. — A second design for a new Jackson County Adult Detention Center could be back on the table this week after supervisors received a proposal for a nontraditional circular facility.
The second option comes from Southeastern Composite Systems in Belmont, Miss., who has built five jails in the state using a steel-reinforced composite dome material.
Supervisor Tommy Brodnax said Pryor and Morrow, the contracted firm that has already completed an approved design of the jail, has developed a plan that the county needs to follow.
“They’re doing the design that our sheriff has approved,” Brodnax said. “It’s a real jail, not some makeshift jail.”
But other supervisors are open to at least considering the product.
The manufacturer of the domes approached Florence-based Hemphill Construction Co., Pascagoula Mayor Robbie Maxwell said, and asked for Hemphill’s help in getting a proposal to supervisors.
Hemphill then asked Maxwell’s business, Maxwell-Walker Consulting Group, for help submitting the information to the board. The consulting firm is made up of Maxwell and Ocean Springs businessman Scott Walker.
“This thing has the potential to save some money, and we felt obligated from that standpoint to bring it to the supervisors,” Maxwell said. “What they do with the information is up to them.”
Hemphill reported the circular design could save the county $8 million to $10 million on construction and long-term maintenance costs, Supervisor John McKay said at Monday’s board meeting.
The dome building could save up to 50 percent on utilities compared to Pryor and Morrow’s brick and mortar design, the five-page proposal said. It would also save on manpower and be better protected from hurricane-force winds, it claimed.
Haven’s piece is jam packed with information the best being the subterfuge. Subterfuge?? Well sure because Southeastern Composites was partially owned by Hemphill owner Richard Rula, a fact I do not see disclosed in Haven’s article, likely because it was not mentioned:
Next up Slabbed rolls out more players, explains how some of the gang is related and begins a true-up of the total cost of the jail and it isn’t the number being rolled around in the local media, which is understated by several million dollars. Stay tuned.