Ex-North Lee manager faces federal charges

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Former North Lee County Water Association manager Dan Durham will answer to criminal charges in federal court next month.
Durham, who was forced to resign from his position in October 2011 amid employees’ allegations of corruption, will appear Dec. 12 in Aberdeen before U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock.
According to the court document, Durham will waive an indictment and plead guilty to one count of an “information.”
An information is a charge that can carry a lesser punishment than would the original grand jury indictment. It usually happens after a person under investigation agrees to cooperate, takes a polygraph and provides facts about others who may have been involved.
If the government is satisfied with the cooperation, defense counsel usually negotiates a deal for a charge or “information” with lesser punishment.
Because the case is sealed, the charge isn’t yet public. It will be revealed at the hearing, after which a pre-sentence interview will occur.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Mims, who is prosecuting the case, said he can’t provide any additional details at this time.
Attempts to reach Durham’s attorney, Anthony Farese, were unsuccessful.
Durham was forced from the water association after employees alleged his involvement in a number of misdeeds, which then were reported by the Daily Journal. Among the allegations were that Durham made water employees work side jobs for him while on the clock at North Lee and that many of those jobs occurred on properties owned by then-board president Mitchell Scruggs.
Scruggs later resigned from the board, as did the other members.
Employees also claimed Durham falsified water sample testing results to the Mississippi Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They said he collected all the water samples from one location yet reported them as having been pulled from several locations throughout the district as required.
Scruggs and Durham denied all the accusations.
Since then, the association’s roughly 4,400 customers elected a new board of directors, whose members upgraded the system and improved working conditions.
When asked about Durham’s pending court hearing, current board president Ken Clemons said he hopes it signals the end of an era.
“I’m glad it’s coming to a resolve, and we wish (Durham) well,” Clemons said. “Maybe now everyone can move forward.”
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com