Late Monday, the US Attorney delivered what was anticipated by many following the “Beef Plant” scandal case involving the Facility Group of Georgia and one of its top executives, Robert Moultrie. Late Monday, Moultrie pleaded to a one count information involving “unlawfully rewarding an agent of the government of Mississippi with a gratuity”. Though in the indictment, the gratuity went to an “unnamed public official”, we now know for sure that the public official involved was former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, Democratic candidate for United States Senate.
A reading of the original indictment clearly indicates that the US Attorney at the time stepped very lightly around Musgrove. However, some events have occurred over the last week that have radically changed the circumstances. There has also been a corresponding change of language that is being used with regards to Musgrove’s involvement with Moultrie, the Facility Group, and the Beef Plant in general.
Here are the facts as reasonably pulled from the public records . . .
We know that in the government’s response to Moultrie et al’s Motion to Dismiss that . . .
Documentary evidence proves invitations for the fundraiser for the public official were sent out on July 7, 2003, just days before the contract was signed on July 11, 2003. Less than two weeks later, on July 23, 2003, a fundraiser for the public official was held at Moultrie’s Smyrna, Georgia residence. Moultrie, Cawood and employees of The Facility Group and others raised $25,000 for the public official and (Robin) Williams (a TFG political consultant) provided a check for $25,000 to the Democratic Governors Association.
Then, less than seven days after the fundraiser, The Facility Group created a Political Action Committee, from which it gave two more contributions to the public official in the amounts of
$20,000 and $25,000 respectively for a total of $95,000 raised by Moultrie, Cawood and The Facility Group.
We also know that there is testimony from Robin Williams, a TFG political consultant that is currently in federal prison on other charges, about a phone call he got from Moultrie after meeting with Musgrove and one of his campaign staff at dinner one night . . .
here is what I was told that day. On the phone this is what was told. We got the contract. I’ve (Moultrie) got to do a fundraiser for the (public official). I’ve got to raise $100,000 dollars. Now, in that – – the contract to me took that they had done their deal and this is the date. And the date was pretty quickly after phone call. He said we’re going to be in Smyrna at my home. I need you to bring some money.
We also know from that document that the executives of TFG were basically strawmen whose contributions were reimbursed by TFG, and those contributions were essentially overbilled to the state.
(1) That Moultrie and Robin Williams met with the public official and his campaign employee days before The Facility Group was announced to manage the project, (2) The mailing of invitations to the fundraiser at Moultrie’s Georgia residence for the public official days before the subject Project Management Agreement was signed, (3) Using The Facility Group’s employees as straw contributors to get around corporate donation limits, (4) Reimbursing employees for their campaign contributions under the guise of a “bonus” to the employees salaries, (5) Creating a Political Action committee to deliver additional campaign contributions to the public official, (6) Making two additional contributions from their newly created PAC in
the amounts of $20,000 and $25,000 respectively and (7) Submitting bogus bills to the State of Mississippi to recover the money The Facility Group, Moultrie and Cawood spent on campaign contributions.
Finally, we know that the Beef Plant was in trouble long before it was ever reported and that TFG knew it and that they thought ‘ol Ronnie could help bail ’em out. From the factual basis . . .
However, in September 2003, Musgrove contacted Moultrie for another campaign contribution of $25,000. At the time, The Facility Group was aware of potential problems in the design and construction of the plant. Moultrie and Cawood subsequently had a conversation about giving this contribution to Musgrove intending to influence and reward him for the performance of his official duties should his assistance be needed on any potential problems on the project.
On July 21, 2008, Sean Carothers, whose construction company was central to the Beef Plant scheme, was released from prison in the middle of a 21 month sentence for his cooperation against Moultrie et. al.
In the Government’s response only two weeks after Carothers’ release, the US Attorney started to use the word “bribe” in relation to the “public official”.
Further legal ramifications
One would surmise that Moultrie’s co-indictees will plea before trial. Given that Moultrie and Carothers are cooperating, it’s hard to imagine any lawyer willing to allow their client to go through that legal buzzsaw.
Musgrove’s outlook is a bit murkier. It all boils down to this question . . . Did Ronnie Musgrove specifically direct Moultrie and TFG to raise campaign funds for him (just a few months before a hotly contested election against now Governor Haley Barbour)? If so, and the Feds can prove it, Musgrove is in real trouble. If not, and there truly is no connection between the campaign contributions and TFG’s political/business fortunes, Musgrove might can avoid further legal entanglements. However, the fact that the US Attorney is using the word “bribe” specifically to describe TFG’s intent and behavior coupled with the fact that they are using Musgrove’s name specifically would lead me to believe that they are leaning more toward the former answer than the latter.
The political ramifications
Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) is now the Democratic nominee challenging United States Senator Roger Wicker (R) this November. With the convictions of two of Ronnie Musgrove’s trusted inner circle of campaign contributors (Paul Minor and Dickie Scruggs) and now the revelation that there is more to come regarding campaign finance irregularities or illegalities with the Beef Plant, Musgrove has a major political problem. Wicker will likely hang this “culture of corruption” around Musgrove’s neck. In fact, the NRSC has already started the damage by releasing on Monday a pretty explicit web-ad attacking Musgrove on these points.
Neither the legal nor the political maneuvering is over by a long shot. Musgrove stated late Monday, through a spokesperson . . .
“If anyone defrauded the taxpayers of the state of Mississippi, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”
I couldn’t agree more.