By Keith Burton - GCN 2/15/08 Updated 2/20/08
Federal investigators with the FBI, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, is gathering information over Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr’s receipt of a Homeowner Grant. That information is part of an inquiry being coordinated by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Mississippi.
Agents are gathering records by subpoena from the city and are interviewing a wide variety of individuals with the city and connected to Warr. 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.
Before any federal investigation to take place of a public official, evidence is initially considered in Washington at the highest levels of the Justice Department before the inquiry moves further. Sources close to the inquiry, including some city officials say federal authorities have been going over Gulfport and quietly asking questions for months prior to the recent disclosures about the Warr investigations.
While the current investigations appear to stem from GCN’s articles, GCN has no power to call forth a federal investigation.
GCN recently reported on a letter to the City Council regarding FEMA’s concerns over Gulfport’s failure to comply with the requirements of the federal flood insurance program. That letter revealed a detailed understanding of the city’s inner workings by federal authorities that indicated more than a routine look of the city is underway.
What many people don’t understand is that the Department of Homeland Security has been a combined agency since shortly after 911 representing FEMA, the FBI and other agencies. What one branch knows, they all know. Federal authorities as well as the Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour have said from the beginning of the Katrina recovery that a tight oversight of how federal dollars are spent will be part of the process. For example, since Katrina, the State Attorney General has arrested 56 people on 92 cases of contractor fraud. Federal prosecutors have charged other in similar Katrina fraud cases. It is the Katrina fraud unit that is involved in the current case in Gulfport.
The federal grand jury has subpoenaed a growing number of people including some city workers and at least one city councilman.
Ward 5 Councilman Brian Carriere, who serves the ward where Warr’s home is located, confirmed to GCN that he has been subpoenaed to speak at the grand jury next week. Carriere declined to tell GCN on what he has been asked to testify about.
Mayor Brent Warr has told other media outlets, including WLOX and the Sun Herald that he is cooperating fully in the federal inquiry and is supplying documents regarding his home to authorities. Federal investigators, according to news reports have been busy obtaining records ranging from county records to city water bills and building permits. GCN is aware that other city officials may be called to testify besides Carriere. Warr has told the press that he has not been questioned or asked to appear at the grand jury so far.
Meanwhile, the Gulfport City Council is to discuss an audit conducted by the city’s independent auditors this week. Most city councilmen have not seen the report but it covers the period between September 2005 through September 2006. The audits, according to GCN sources does contains findings over how the city has been handling its money during the Warr administration including donations given to the city.
Update: Gulfport Ward 5 Councilman Brian Carriere did testify at the Federal Grand Jury Tuesday, Feb. 18 regarding the Warr case. He did not say what he spoke about but the meeting did cause him to be late arriving for the 2:30 p.m. City Council meeting.
Gulfport Mayor Under Investigation by Federal Authorities -
Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr Defends Receipt of Homeowner Grant - Sun Herald 2/14/08