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: Continue reading “Slabbed explores the almost completed Jackson County Adult Detention Center – Introduction”