- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Federal prosecutors moved Tuesday against two former government officials they say took bribes to steer work to a contractor for a Mississippi Gulf Coast government utility.

Ex-Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant pleaded guilty to a charge that he took bribes of $1,500 a month while serving as a board member for the county’s utility authority. The 65-year-old Gulfport man is scheduled to be sentenced March 26 as part of his plea bargain with prosecutors.

Kamran Pahlavan, a former executive director whom the utility board fired, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a five-count indictment that he received bribes from the same contractor, Sean H. Anthony of Pass Christian. Anthony was not charged.

His company, S.H. Anthony Inc., is supposed to sell all its equipment Thursday at its Gulfport yard in what auction house Alex Lyon & Son describes as a “complete liquidation.” When asked why Anthony was not indicted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst would only say that “the investigation continues.” Anthony and his lawyer have not responded to inquiries from The Associated Press.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue, investigate and prosecute the public officials who violate the trust the public has given them,” Hurst told reporters after the hearing. “We will not rest, we will not grow weary, in making sure these criminals are brought to justice.”

Savant faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines from the single count of conspiracy to commit bribery. Prosecutors will recommend a sentence for Savant, who remains free on $25,000 bond, but that recommendation remained sealed Tuesday. The government also wants Savant to forfeit his gains, which totaled $36,000 over two years.

“Mr. Savant is an honest, honorable man who recognized he did wrong, that he shouldn’t have done what he did,” defense lawyer William Kirksey said after the plea.

Savant was one of seven directors of the Harrison County Utility Authority because of his position as a supervisor. He acknowledged that he took money to vote in favor of contracts to a company Kirksey identified as S.H. Anthony Inc. Savant resigned less than an hour before he made his initial court appearance, agreeing to be charged without an indictment.

“I want to personally apologize to the board, the citizens of Harrison County, and most of all my family for the mistake I have made and for which I take responsibility,” the seven-year supervisor wrote in his resignation letter.

Moments before Savant’s appearance, Pahlavan pleaded not guilty. His indictment, dated Dec. 9, says Pahlavan took automobiles, New Orleans Saints tickets, home repairs and use of a beach condominium in exchange for steering business to S.H. Anthony.

The 54-year-old Pahlavan was released on $25,000 bond. He faces up to 60 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines on the five felony counts, one each of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice and false statements.

Pahlavan and lawyer Gail Robinson declined comment.

Tuesday’s charges focus on Anthony’s actions to gain and keep a contract to operate the authority’s sewer system. But the authority also spent large amounts of federal aid following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina to rebuild and expand its system. An Associated Press investigation found it took private property and spent recovery money on sewage plants that may not be needed for decades. More than $230 million in federal money was set aside for water and sewer projects in Harrison County, the most populous on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The indictment alleges that Anthony bought three vehicles for Pahlavan

The Sun Herald newspaper previously reported the purchase of the third car, which led the board to fire Pahlavan in February 2013 and S.H. Anthony in March 2013.

The two told investigators that Pahlavan had paid Anthony $6,794 in cash and $241 in monthly installments. But the indictment says that Pahlavan instructed Anthony to fake a backdated loan document after Pahlavan was first interviewed by the FBI in late 2011. Prosecutors say no payments were ever made.

In exchange, the indictment says Pahlavan approved, or got the authority board to approve, a series of payments to S.H. Anthony from 2008 through late 2011. In some cases, prosecutors say Pahlavan instructed authority employees to submit false bids from S.H. Anthony and another company for work S.H. Anthony had already done.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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