Miss. developer ordered to jail for bond violation

Published 11:12 pm Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lucedale developer Robert J. Lucas Jr. has been ordered to prison after violating terms of his release while his convictions of federal environmental and fraud charges was on appeal.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola on Wednesday revoked Lucas’ bond, finding that Lucas had violated the same federal and state environmental laws that got him in trouble before.

Guirola ordered Lucas to surrender to federal authorities on Friday. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday turned down Lucas’ request to reinstate the bond.

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Guirola’s order did not say where Lucas would be confined or for how long. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons had no immediate record of Lucas in custody early Friday.

Lucas had posted bond when he appealed his 2005 conviction related to a Vancleave land development. The appeal is pending before the 5th Circuit, which heard arguments in the case this past October.

Lucas was convicted of violating the Clean Water Act, conspiracy and mail fraud. The charges were associated with the development of a 2,600-acre subdivision in Vancleave called Big Hill Acres.

Lucas was sentenced to nine years in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $15,000 fine.

Lucas returned to federal court this month after prosecutors alleged that Lucas had continued his business dealings with the Big Hill Acres development in violation of his bond.

In his order, Guirola said Lucas had failed to convince the court that he would follow any restrictions and stop dealing in land at Big Hill Acres.

Lucas’ daughter, Robbie Lucas-Wrigley, and partner, M.E. Thompson Jr., were each sentenced to 87 months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $15,000 fine for the same offenses.

Lucas was unavailable for comment Thursday, and the status of Lucas-Wrigley’s and Thompson’s cases was also unavailable.

Two corporations affiliated with the development were also punished.

Big Hill Acres Inc. was fined $4.8 million and Consolidated Investments Inc. was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. Both companies were also given five years of probation.

Prosecutors contended the defendants illegally filled in hundreds of acres of wetlands from 1994 through 1999. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Lucas about the wetlands in 1996, but prosecutors said he ignored the corps’ order that no home sites could be developed there.

The defendants then sold hundreds of home sites, primarily to low-income families, despite warnings from public health officials that illegally installing septic systems on the saturated soil would contaminate the land, according to court documents.

More than 600 families moved into Big Hill Acres, prosecutors said, and within several years many of the septic systems failed and raw sewage seeped up from the ground and flowed across the property.