Beef plant businessman wants to block testimony

Robert Moultrie, chairman and chief executive of the Facility Group of Smyrna, Ga., and two other company executives were charged in a 16-count indictment in June. Moultrie, Nixon Cawood Jr. and Charles Morehead all are free on bond and deny wrongdoing.

They are charged with submitting invoices for work not performed and fraudulently inflating prices for the company, hired in 2003 to help design and manage construction of the Mississippi Beef Processors plant in Oakland. Prosecutors say the three also made corrupt political contributions.

Faulty equipment and lack of operating funds shut the 140,000-square-foot plant in 2004, just three months after it opened. Nearly 400 people were left without jobs. Mississippi taxpayers were stuck with $55 million in state-backed loans.

Sean Carothers, whose company built the beef plant, pleaded guilty in 2007 to paying kickbacks to the owner and was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He’s apparently prepared to testify against Moultrie and the others.

Moultrie, however, claims in documents filed in federal court this past week that Carothers should not be allowed to testify as an expert witness for the government. The main issue is how Carothers intends to interpret a payment agreement and whether he is qualified to do so.

Moultrie’s court filings include a summary of Carothers’ expected testimony, provided to the defense by U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee. Greenlee’s office did not respond to a message left Friday.

Carothers claims the Facility executives inflated prices by at least $1.6 million. Moultrie’s filings include statements from a forensic accountant who disputes the allegations.

Carothers also claims the Facility Group used several subsidiaries to increase profits. Facility Construction Management Inc. billed other Facility companies for “their actual cost plus a hidden intercompany profit not allowed by the contract,” Carothers claimed.

Moultrie’s attorneys argue that Carothers used “methodological flaws” in interpreting contract payments and his “opinions simply do not ’fit’ the facts of this case.”

The Facility Group executives also want to prevent several other proposed witnesses from testifying as experts for the government. A judge has not yet ruled on the motions.

The men also face charges of corruptly giving campaign donations to a Mississippi government official. The donations were allegedly given “to influence and reward the public official” for the state hiring the company.

The official was not charged with a crime and was not named in the indictment. The events outlined in the indictment, however, correspond to the dates of fundraisers that the Facility executives held in 2003 for Ronnie Musgrove, who was seeking a second term as governor at the time. Musgrove, a Democrat, is now running for U.S. Senate. Musgrove says he did nothing wrong.

Clarion Ledger