By JEFF AMY/Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. —
A former state employee and the head of a nonprofit housing agency face charges that they took bribes for steering work to a Mound Bayou contractor.
Former Mississippi Development Authority worker Connie Lewis, 52, of Jackson faces nine counts of bribery, claiming she accepted more than $250,000 in cash from Jimmy Stokes to use her MDA job to steer federal grants to Stokes Construction Co.
Linda Balducci, 59, of Shelby faces three counts of conspiring with Stokes to embezzle money through inflated invoices on the complex in the Humphreys County town of Isola.
Both have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Mississippi and are currently set for trial in February. Lewis faces up to 85 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines, prosecutors said in a news release. Balducci faces up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
Balducci’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. It wasn’t clear if Lewis has an attorney.
Balducci was indicted under seal in August 2011 and arrested in June after an earlier version of the indictment was made public. She’s free on $10,000 bond. Lewis was arrested Wednesday and released on $5,000 bond.
The indictment says Lewis approved invoices for federally-subsidized apartment complexes that Stokes was building in Isola, Batesville, Houston, Hollandale and Itta Bena from 2006 through 2008, when she knew Stokes was inflating the invoices to steal money. In each instance, the indictment says that after MDA paid him, Stokes wrote large checks that other people cashed, and then Stokes conveyed the cash to Lewis. The indictment says Lewis received more than $250,000 in bribes, depositing $235,531 into her checking account at a credit union.
Prosecutors say Stokes kicked $90,000 back to Balducci, who was executive director of Southeastern Development Opportunities, through sham payments of rent worth $59,400 to the organization and the purchase of three acres in Bolivar County from Balducci for $30,000. Those kickbacks, came, the indictment says, in connection with for $358,500 in invoices that Stokes submitted to dig a drainage ditch for the Isola apartments when the work only cost $20,000.
Southeastern Development Opportunities was founded in 1993 and had received grants to build low-income housing for residents of a number of Mississippi Delta towns.
MDA spokeswoman Marlo Dorsey said Friday that Lewis was no longer a state employee as of Thursday, but wasn’t immediately certain whether Lewis had been fired or resigned.
Dorsey said MDA had been aware for some time that Lewis was under scrutiny and had taken steps to protect the agency from additional wrongdoing. She said federal investigators asked MDA not to move against Lewis until the federal case was ready. Dorsey said MDA Director Brent Christensen has asked state Auditor Stacey Pickering to conduct his own inquiry of Lewis’ actions at MDA.
Stokes has not been indicted on the bribery charges. But he did plead guilty in 2009 to lying to an FBI agent about bribing a bank teller to deposit $1 million in bogus checks in 2004. Stokes was ordered to serve 10 months in federal prison, three years on supervised release and pay back $758,000 as part of that agreement.
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