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Contractor admits guilt to aiding, abetting embezzlement

OXFORD — A building contractor pleaded guilty yesterday to participating in a kickback scheme involving the South Delta Regional Housing Authority, which promotes affordable housing for the poor in the impoverished Mississippi Delta.

Court records show Jimmy Johnson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Oxford to aiding and abetting embezzlement. Johnson and housing agency director Ann Jefferson were indicted in 2011. Jefferson is scheduled for trial Jan. 30.

Prosecutors allege Jefferson paid Johnson for work on a house in Leland that the agency already paid for and that the work had already been done. Johnson is accused of paying a kickback to Jefferson after cashing the check at Turner’s Pawn Shop in Indianola.

Jefferson did not immediately respond to a message. Johnson’s attorney, Derrick Simmons, said he had no comment.

A document known as a factual basis was entered in court and outlines what prosecutors believed they could prove if the case had gone to trial. It said the housing organization got money from U.S. Housing and Urban Development to administer Section 8 housing rental assistance to low income individuals.

It says SDRHA paid Johnson’s company $30,000 to work on a house in 2009. Then Jefferson allegedly paid him $10,000 more for the same work.

“She even used the original contract, neglecting to change the date at the top,” court records said.

Prosecutors said Johnson kept some of the money and paid some back as a kickback to Jefferson.

Jefferson had also been accused of retaliating against two employees and a woman who bought a house from the organization after Jefferson found out they were cooperating with federal investigators.

Court records said Jefferson made work unbearable for one of the witnesses, a broker and accounts payable analyst for her organization, then had her fired. Jefferson later denied the woman’s unemployment application and refused to acknowledge her request for annual leave reimbursement or to purchase an extension of health care benefits, court records said.

Jefferson verbally abused another employee and withheld her pay, the indictment said.

The indictment also accuses Jefferson of refusing to accept proof of insurance and a money order for the first month’s mortgage payment from a woman who bought a home from the organization. The tenant allegedly was threatened with foreclosure.

The authority provides affordable housing to low-income people in Bolivar, Humphreys, Sunflower, Issaquena, Sharkey and Washington counties.

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