- Associated Press - Friday, September 2, 2016

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - A developer entered a guilty plea Friday, boosting the likelihood that he’ll testify against the Rev. Kenneth Fairley of Hattiesburg on theft and money laundering charges at Fairley’s planned trial next week.

Developer Artie Fletcher of Picayune was indicted along with Fairley in March as authorities alleged that he helped Fairley skim $120,000 by inflating bills for rehabilitating three houses in a project financed by federal funds passed through the City of Hattiesburg.

But Fletcher, in a federal court appearance Friday, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge admitting he had knowledge of a crime that he failed to report. Fletcher agreed to waive indictment before pleading guilty to the misprision of a felony charge, with prosecutors and defense lawyer Clarence Roby saying they reached a plea agreement.

Fletcher, who owns New Orleans-based Interurban Development and has participated in dozens of real estate deals in Louisiana and Mississippi, faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his scheduled Dec. 19 sentencing. WDAM-TV reported (https://bit.ly/2cbdJR4 ) that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Golden said in court Friday that prosecutors will recommend that U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett sentence Fletcher in the lower 50 percent of the federal sentencing guidelines for the crime.

Fairley, pastor of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church and longtime political ally of Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, is alleged to have skimmed $120,000 by inflating bills for rehabilitating three houses in a project financed by federal funds passed through the city. A March indictment alleges Fletcher helped Fairley by submitting bids for the work. Instead, prosecutors say Fairley hired others to do the work more cheaply, and that Fletcher passed the difference to Fairley.

Friday’s criminal charge said Fletcher knew that someone with the initials “KF” had forged his initials on false documents and “thereafter embezzled, stole, purloined, or knowingly converted to his own use funds set aside by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the rehabilitation of one or more properties within the city of Hattiesburg.”

Fletcher was originally indicted on three felony counts including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and attempting to deposit a check containing stolen money. He faced up to 35 years in prison and at least $1 million in fines on those counts.

Fairley faces six counts, with a potential of 65 years in prison and at least $1.75 million in fines

Both pleaded not guilty in the original case. Fletcher and Fairley remain free on bail. Neither Fletcher’s attorney, Clarence Roby, nor Fairley’s attorney, Sanford Knott, immediately returned calls Friday. It’s unclear if Fletcher’s plea would delay Fairley’s trial.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has asked the U.S. Justice Department to review the prosecutions of Fairley and Forrest County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Bolton.

Bolton is set for trial Sept. 12 on charges that he and his wife, Linda, evaded income taxes by hiding tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of income from businesses. Thompson wrote that he’s getting complaints that investigators are unfairly targeting black people involved in politics after Hattiesburg’s contested 2013 election. DuPree narrowly was re-elected in a second vote after a judge threw out the first election.


Information from: WDAM-TV, https://www.wdam.com

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