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Mayor enters plea in federal bribery case

VICKSBURG — Mayor Paul Winfield pleaded not guilty yesterday to a federal bribery charge that accuses him of seeking $10,000 in cash in exchange for a city contract.

Winfield, wearing a dark suit and red tie, said little during his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Jackson other than to give short answers to the judge’s questions. The last time he was in court, during an initial appearance on Feb. 21, he had spent the previous night in jail and was wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackles.

Magistrate Judge Keith Ball set the trial for June 3. Winfield faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, if convicted. The judge allowed him to remain free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Winfield and his attorney declined to comment after the brief hearing.

Winfield, a 39-year-old Democrat, is completing his first term as mayor of the historic Mississippi River city and qualified to seek re-election.

The FBI arrested Winfield on Feb. 20. A federal grand jury indicted him March 19.

The criminal complaint says a confidential FBI informant called Winfield on July 17, 2012, to discuss “pre-event disaster contracts” with the city.

It says the two met at a Jackson restaurant the next day, and the informant asked Winfield what it would take to get the contract.

“Winfield responded ‘Ten’ and held up 10 fingers, signifying $10,000,” the complaint says.

Winfield agreed to take half the money up front and the rest after the contract was awarded, according to the complaint. The complaint says the source paid Winfield $5,000 in hundred dollar bills that had been provided by the FBI.

In August, Winfield called the informant and said he owed $4,300 in taxes and was “in a bind,” the complaint said. They later met in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Natchez, where the source gave Winfield another $2,000 and promised to give him the remaining $3,000 when the contract was awarded, according to the complaint.

Winfield was a football player at the University of Mississippi before earning a law degree and going into private practice. He also served a brief time as municipal judge in Port Gibson, where he later worked as the attorney for the city. He also had served as the lawyer for the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

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