Mt. Vernon Mayor Terry Williams continues to face legal troubles related to his former business after being indicted on federal wire-fraud charges two months ahead of a state ethics trial.
As Lagniappe previously reported, a special grand jury convened by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office charged Williams with felony ethics violations in 2017 in a corruption probe into the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB).
The same probe also ensnared board member Sherry Lewis and engineer Jerry Jones. The Birmingham Division of the FBI assisted state investigators with that corruption probe, which is likely how the alleged conduct at the heart of Williams’ federal charges was discovered.
None of Willliams’ charges have been connected to his position as mayor of Mt. Vernon, though. Instead, his legal troubles have stemmed from a business he formerly owned that worked with BWWB through Arcadis Inc., an engineering and design firm Jones was employed by.
Williams formerly owned and operated Global Solutions International Inc., which, according to state business records, was formed in Stone Mountain, Ga., in 2010. It also went by Global Systems International (GSI), according to the state’s criminal complaint against Williams.
Prosecutors have accused Jones — a former vice president at Arcadis — of using Williams’ company to provide cash payments and other things of value to Lewis and her son so they would not appear to be coming from Jones or Arcadis, a firm BWWB was directly contracting.
Williams and Jones are accused of attempting to corruptly influence actions Lewis took while serving on the BWWB related to Arcadis and its ability to provide work to Williams’ former business as a subcontractor. Lewis is charged with using her position for personal gain, but under state ethics law, Williams and Jones can be charged with aiding and abetting her.
Court documents filed in Williams’ state case claim Lewis used a GSI corporate account to pay for a dinner Jones arranged at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, even though neither he nor Lewis were ever an employee, owner or member of the business.
Prosecutors say Williams also made a $10,000 contribution to a nonprofit Lewis operated to help pay for a jazz festival in 2014, even though it led to GSI’s account overdrawing. He also hired Lewis son, Joseph Lewis Jr., to build a website investigators say he never worked on.
Despite that, Lewis Jr. continued to be paid and used at least part of those funds to rent an apartment in Birmingham leased under Sherry Lewis’ name. When Lewis Jr. left the job and moved back in with his mother, Williams allegedly paid someone else to build the website.
Since he was charged in state court, Williams has pleaded not guilty to three felony ethics violations, and barring a delay, his trial is scheduled to begin in August in Jefferson County. Jones and Lewis have also pleaded not guilty and publicly maintain their innocence.
However, last week, a 21-count indictment against Williams and Jones was unsealed in federal court that also centers around their businesses’ connections to BWWB.
Federal prosecutors are accusing the pair of conspiring to create false invoices that were submitted to BWWB for work purportedly performed on its Shades Mountain Filter Plant project.
In all, the indictment alleges Jones and Williams defrauded BWWB of more than $500,000.
According to the document, BWWB’s contract with Arcadis required the board to pay the firm a 10-percent premium over and above the amount charged by its subcontractors. As part of their alleged conspiracy, prosecutors say Jones and Williams created nine GSI invoices falsely stating that GSI employees had performed work on the Shades Mountain Filter Plant project.
It goes on to cite emails Jones sent to Arcadis employees to facilitate the processing and payment of those false GSI invoices, which appears to be the basis of the wire-fraud charges.
He would then submit those invoices to BWWB that included the amounts reflected on the false GSI invoices, including the 10-percent premium payment. As part of the alleged conspiracy, federal officials say Williams would “share the proceeds of the false invoice scheme with Jones.”
BWWB paid Arcadis a total amount of $255,300, while GSI received about $232,091.
“These defendants demonstrated a callous disregard for the citizens of Birmingham by stealing money meant to improve the Birmingham Water Works Board’s operations,” U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town said after the indictment was unsealed last week. “Their breach of the special trust given to them makes their thievery even more intolerable.”
So far, neither Williams nor Jones has entered a plea to these new federal charges, but if convicted, the maximum penalty for any of their conspiracy charges could be up to five years in prison or up to a $250,000 fine. The max penalty for wire fraud would be 20 years in prison, with a $250,000 fine.
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