A Georgia businessman pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to corruptly influence a public official in connection with Mississippi’s costly and failed beef plant venture — a decision that could spill over into a U.S. Senate race.

Robert Moultrie, chairman and chief executive of The Facility Group of Smyrna, Ga., admitted he gave $45,000 in contributions to the re-election campaign of then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who is now running for the Senate.

Moultrie has agreed to cooperate with authorities. He first gave Musgrove $20,000 through a PAC Moultrie formed in July 2003. In September 2003, “Musgrove contacted Moultrie for another campaign contribution of $25,000,” according to court documents.

The contributions were made with the intent to influence or reward Musgrove for the “performance of his official acts in connection with the management of the design and construction of the Mississippi Beef Processors project.”

Nothing in the plea agreement suggests Musgrove knew the money was obtained illegally but simply that he accepted the contributions from The Facility Group.

Musgrove is not accused of any wrongdoing, but Moultrie’s plea comes less than three months before voters are set to decide whether Musgrove, a Democrat, or Republican Roger Wicker will fill the Senate seat vacated by Trent Lott. The election is Nov. 4.

“There is nothing in the plea agreement that indicates any quid pro quo,” Musgrove campaign spokesman Adam Bozzi said Monday. “And whatever Robert Moultrie’s intentions were to influence future acts were misdirected. The Land, Water and Timber Resource Board was responsible for all contracts, and they approved contracting with The Facility Group.”
Clarion Ledger