3 lawmakers cleared in Katrina contract ethics complaint

Published 9:47 pm Friday, January 19, 2007

The Mississippi Ethics Commission on Thursday dismissed complaints against three state lawmakers who were awarded a government contract to finalize housing grants for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, and Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, were awarded the contract last year through the Mississippi Development Authority.

They hired Rep. Jim Simpson, R-Gulfport, to help with the work that is being financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. All three legislators are attorneys, and the contract could bring them as much as $1.2 million.

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The Ethics Commission voted 5-2 Thursday to dismiss the complaint, which alleged a conflict of interest.

“The commission has conducted an in-depth investigation and carefully reviewed the ethics laws of the state and finds no violation,” the commission said in a news release.

Robertson issued a statement in response to the commission’s report. He said: “the competitive bid process has saved the taxpayers many thousands of dollars.”

“We hope the dismissal of this unfounded ethics complaint puts and end to the incorrect statements, misunderstandings or misconceptions about our role in closing Katrina homeowner grants for the Mississippi Development Authority,” Robertson said.

Since July, Robertson and Beckett have finalized grants for homeowners in Harrison and Jackson counties who do not have mortgages or whose mortgage companies did not choose to participate in the Homeowner Grant Program.

The three lawmakers were named in the complaint in October.

The complaint also named Ethics Commission Chairman Ben Stone, a former legislator with whom Robertson says he checked with before bidding on the contract.

“The commission looked thoroughly into those allegations and unanimously found absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Stone, who was completely exonerated,” the commission said.

Robertson’s bid of $250-per-grant closing was the lowest of five bids in a competitive process, officials said.