From The Mississippi Link Newswire
JACKSON – Federal officials said two women have been indicted in connection with an embezzlement and bribery scheme related to grant funds and the construction of community housing projects in the Mississippi Delta.
Connie Lewis, 52, of Jackson, an employee of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), faces nine counts of accepting a total of over $250,000 in cash bribes from Jimmy Stokes, a general contractor in the Mississippi Delta, in return for her influence at the MDA in directing federal grant funds to Stokes Construction Company.
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 deposited $235,531 into her checking account at a credit union.
If convicted, Lewis faces up to 85 years in prison and $2,250,000 in fines.
Linda Balducci, 59, of Shelby, faces three counts of conspiring with Jimmy Stokes to embezzle federal grant funds in connection with the construction of low income housing in Isola, Mississippi.
Balducci serves as Executive Director of Southeastern Development Opportunities, Inc. located in Shelby, Mississippi.
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.
If convicted, Balducci faces up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
Both defendants have been released on bond. Trial is set for Feb. 11, 2013.
This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General.
Stokes, who is from Mound Bayou, 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.