The developer in the public-private partnership of the proposed downtown development project is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Mississippi in less than a month and a half in a case of an alleged bid-rigging scheme in that state.
David Hunt, 54, on Thursday appeared in federal court in Jackson, Miss., and U.S. Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball ordered Hunt to appear on Nov. 2 before U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee for trial, federal court records show. Hunt and others are charged in the case.
A majority of the Rocky Mount City Council on Aug. 24 voted for a resolution reaffirming certain findings relating to the proposed downtown project, with Councilman Lige Daughtridge the lone dissenting voice. The site is adjacent to the nearly two-year-old, $48 million Rocky Mount Event Center.
The city administration and the council majority have been trying to seek state Local Government Commission approval of Hunt building a parking garage as part of the proposed project.
The plan was for the garage to be leased to Hunt’s company, but with the city to receive any profits. Possession of the garage would be given to the city after 20 years.
The plans also have included Hunt building a hotel, retail spaces and housing.
Revised documents of the proposed project were sent to the LGC staff in an effort to get the item placed on the LGC agenda for approval.
However, the Telegram learned the morning of Sept. 5 that Hunt, of Jackson, Tenn., stood indicted in Mississippi and the newspaper posted a story that evening on its website.
The next morning, a Telegram reporter, while checking emails, saw a brief statement from a city spokesman saying City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney had the previous evening been notified by Hunt of his being charged with federal crimes.
Small-Toney in the statement said she had informed Mayor Sandy Roberson and the council of her decision to put the proposed project on hold.
Hunt, for the newspaper’s online story, already had texted the Telegram a statement from his legal team saying that he did not violate the law and is confident that as the facts of the case are revealed, he will be cleared of all charges.
On Wednesday, State Treasurer Dale Folwell issued a news release saying he believes a probe is needed before any taxpayer money is approved to pay for the proposed project.
Folwell also said he believes the City Council, not Small-Toney, should be the one to act to pull back the application from the LGC staff.
In Mississippi, a federal grand jury, in addition to Hunt, indicted former Mississippi Department of Education official Cerissa Renfroe Neal, 45, along with Joseph Kyles, 51, and Lambert Martin, 59, both of Memphis, Tenn.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, in a news release on Sept. 3, said Neal allegedly conspired with Hunt, Kyles and Martin in the scheme.
U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst told Jackson, Miss., television station WLBT the scheme was to fraudulently prepare contracting bids and put forth fraudulent purchase orders so the desired contracts could be awarded to one of the co-conspirators.
Hurst said the co-conspirators subsequently could share the money and Neal could get a kickback for her work in the scheme.
The indictment states the part about Hunt allegedly is connected to Doc Imaging. Hunt’s company’s website shows Doc Imaging is in the business of managing documents and providing printing services.
WLBT reported that the indictment resulted from a three-year probe by federal authorities after information was provided to them by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor.
The indictment states Neal received more than $42,000 directly or indirectly from her conspirators, while Hunt, Kyles and Martin, through their respective businesses, got more than $650,000 from the State of Mississippi.
Neal is free on $10,000 unsecured bond and Magistrate Judge Ball has ordered her to appear on Sept. 28 before U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves for trial.
Hunt also is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
Kyles and Martin also are each free on $10,000 unsecured bond and Ball has ordered both of them to appear on Nov. 2 for trial before Judge Lee.
The indictment was handed down on Feb. 25 but remained sealed until Aug. 26, when the court granted the government’s motion to unseal it.
In another development, the federal case is not stopping with Hunt, Neal, Kyles and Martin.
That is because the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a news release on Thursday said a fifth person, attorney Errol Harmon, 47, of Memphis, Tenn., is charged in connection with the scheme.
The news release said that a federal grand jury in Mississippi on Aug. 25 handed down an indictment against Harmon and that the court granted the government’s motion to unseal it on Wednesday.
Harmon is scheduled to face an initial appearance on Sept. 24 before Magistrate Judge Linda R. Anderson.