Still No Official Word on Status of Warr Investigation
By Keith Burton – GCN 4/4/08
It has been more than three months since news reports surfaced on a federal inquiry into Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr's receipt of a state Homeowner Grant surfaced. As of this update, Jun 10, 2008, neither federal authorities, or Warr have commented on the investigation, but the inquiry, and the questions as to what is going on continue to fill the quiet talk of Gulfport politicians and political insiders across the Coast and persist even today.
Federal authorities with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Jackson continue neither to confirm or deny that an investigation by the Federal Grand Jury is underway, but that is their policy on all issues before the Grand Jury. A spokesperson would only comment generically that the FBI conducts every investigation and presents it to the U.S. Attorney's in a "package," in their own time.
Councilman Brian Carriere, who GCN spoke with shortly after the investigation was made public is among the only known public officials to be questioned by the Federal Grand Jury. He told GCN several months ago that the investigation is slowing city work and left many employees distracted and concerned.
“It’s disrupting city government,” Carriere said. “Everybody there is trying to ignore it.”
As in any similar situation, rumors regarding the investigation have been frequent, but such talk to date have only been rumors. No federal or state official has commented on the case.
There could be good reasons beyond just Warr’s troubles for the lack of comments. So far, Mississippi has avoided any scandal regarding the state’s handling of the Katrina recovery. As Warr’s troubles seem to be associated with a state Homeowner’s Grant he obtained, any problems he might have with that grant could be seen as a detriment to the state’s policing of the grant program, something that could be used to undermine future support for hurricane relief funding.
It is not missed by critics of the state that Mississippi has a long history of political corruption.
GCN contacted Governor Haley Barbour’s office recently about the impact of the Warr situation. The governor’s spokesman Pete Smith declined to comment.
Still, the state is sensitive to perceptions over its handling of the Katrina recovery. The governor’s office, March 31, released an oddly-timed press release reporting that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had found nothing wrong the Homeowner Grant program following a audit of the program. The report praised the state’s controls over the program. What was odd was that the news release came the same day it was announced in Washington that the director of HUD was resigning over allegations of cronyism connected to awarding Katrina recovery projects in the region.
Federal investigators with the FBI, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, in January and February were seen gathering information in Gulfport clearly involved with Mayor Brent Warr’s receipt of a Homeowner Grant. The investigation appears to stem from a series of articles published by GulfCoastNews.com in January over Warr’s receipt of a grant from the Mississippi Development Authority and Warr’s building permits.
Warr purchased a beachfront house in 2003 from the Armed Forces Retirement Home but has never moved in with his family. Among the key provisions of the grant is that the applicants home must be his primary residence prior to hurricane Katrina. Warr has lived in a home owned by a relative since moving to Gulfport from Biloxi less than a year before he ran for mayor in Gulfport in 2005. Warr insists that he did move in though he acknowledges that he never moved his family into the house, which needed extensive repairs even before the hurricane damaged the home. The home, which has been undergoing renovations for more than a year, appears to be nearing completion.
Generally, before any federal investigation can take place of a public official, evidence gathered is initially considered in Washington at the highest levels of the Justice Department before the inquiry moves further.
Federal authorities as well as Governor Barbour have said from the beginning of the Katrina recovery that a tight oversight of how federal dollars are spent would be part of the process. For example, since Katrina, the State Attorney General has arrested more than four dozen individuals for contractor fraud. In addition federal prosecutors have charged others in similar Katrina fraud cases.
Early in April, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Jackson reported on a case of Katrina fraud of a Moss Point man who improperly received a Homeowner Grant on a home he did not live in, but claimed otherwise.
It was Warr himself that let the world know about the federal inquiry in February in a four page letter to the Sun Herald newspaper, however, sources in Gulfport were already aware of the investigation.
In past statements, Warr has denied doing anything improper. He has made no further comments on the inquiry since his letter to the news media.
Gulfport Mayor Under Investigation by Federal Authorities -
Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr Defends Receipt of Homeowner Grant - Sun Herald 2/14/08