Warr Pleads Guilty to One Count of a 20-Count Federal
by Keith Burton - GCN 9/25/09
In a hushed federal courtroom this morning, former Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr stood before U.S. District Judge Walter Gex III and pleaded guilty to one federal count of stealing from the government. His guilty plea the result of a deal between Warr and government prosecutors in a case that took more than a year to investigate and included a 20-count indictment against Warr and his wife Laura.
The one charge was Count 7 in the indictment, which alleged that the Warrs illegally filed disaster aid claims with FEMA that they knew they were ineligible to receive. The claims totaled $9,558.
As part of the plea agreement, the government released Warr of 19 counts as well as dismissed his wife Laura from all of the charges.
Warr was also sentenced in what government prosecutors call a fast-track process. Warr was placed on three years probation and ordered to repay the government $9,558 he received from FEMA disaster aid. Warr is also to perform 100 hours of community service, which will be arranged and supervised by his probation officers.
There was one notable item as part of the plea arrangement, Warr is to comply to questions asked by investigators regarding any financial information they should request or risk jail time. Judge Gex reminded Warr that the sentence could have been as many as 10 years.
As a convicted federal felon, Warr loses his right to possess a firearm, vote in federal elections or hold public office. But considering the charges that he faced before the plea, "It was a good day," said Warr's defense attorney Joe Sam Owen outside the courthouse following the event.
As part of his guilty plea, Warr admitted in federal court to the accuracy of the factual basis set forth by the Government regarding his criminal conduct. Warr admitted that on September 14, 2005, co-defendant Laura Warr registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Katrina Disaster Assistance claiming that she, her husband and their two children were living at 1814 Beach Drive, Gulfport, Mississippi, when the proof would show that they did not.
The 20-count indictment covered three primary charges stemming from what the government alleged were Katrina fraud, insurance fraud and home mortgage fraud. The Katrina fraud included allegations that the Warrs had improperly received a $150,000 homeowner's grant from the Mississippi Development Agency. But with the plea settlement, those issues are now moot.
Warr told reporters after the plea hearing that he was offered the deal just several days ago and acted swiftly.
"I told you, the most important thing to me was to protect my family," Warr said.
In a news release U.S. Attorney Stan Harris noted that the Government actively pursues all bona fide cases of Katrina fraud regardless of an offender’s background or occupation. “It is of particular concern when a public official — in this case, then a sitting mayor — engages in theft through deceit, of government funds for personal benefit. This case is an example that no one is above the law,” said Harris.
Warr served only one term as mayor of Gulfport.
GCN Video of Warr's Statement - .wmv file
Official Warr Judgement - .pdf file
Warr Indictment - GCN .pdf file