Ex-North Lee Water chief pleads guilty in federal court

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – Former North Lee Water Association manager Dan Durham pleaded guilty today to lying about water samples.
Durham, who was forced to resign from his post in October 2011 amid employees’ allegations of corruption, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Sharion Aycock.
The government accused Durham of one count of intentionally making false or fictitious statements to the government, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and $250,000 fine.
The charge focused on reports that claimed samples were taken from multiple sites when they actually were taken from only one, on County Road 503 in Lee County.
He will not be sentenced for several months while the U.S. Probation Service prepares a report about him for Aycock to consider.
Durham was forced from the water association after employees claimed his involvement in various misdeeds, which they reported to the Daily Journal.
Among them were that Durham forced water employees to work side jobs for him while they were on the clock at North Lee. Other jobs occurred on properties owned by then-board president Mitchell Scruggs.
Scruggs, who owns a large farm supply business and farms thousands of acres locally, resigned from the board, along with other members.
The employees also claimed that Durham falsified water sample test results to the Mississippi Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
They said he collected all water samples at one location but reported them as coming from multiple locations throughout the district.
Scruggs and Durham denied all the allegations.
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(BELOW is a running account of today’s hearing in Aberdeen. Durham’s attorney is Tony Farese of Ashland. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mims represents the government. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely as I type rapidly.)

1:23: Farese, Durham enter courtroom. Durham is dressed in jeans and a brown-plaid flannel shirt.
1:36 – Aycock enters. Durham, Farese, Stephen Bailey, Mims move to front of courtroom.
AYCOCK – To Durham, knowingly and willfully making false or fictitious representations. (Asks Durham to speak up. She asks him some standard legal questions before taking his plea.)
You are to plead guilty to Count 1 of an information. Is that correct? (Durham says yes ma’am.)
Durham says he’s 66. Completed 5th grade. (Judge wants to make certain he understands what she’s asking, given his limited education.) Farese says he has no questions about Durham’s competence. (Farese nods his head to help Durham answer the judge’s questions. Durham looks to Farese after first several questions.)
Durham waives his right for govt. to proceed without indictment. Court accepts the waiver and orders the information to be filed.
Durham says he doesn’t have any questions about the judge’s questions.
AYCOCK – (Farese hands him charge.) Knowingly and willfully made or caused to be made one or more false or fictitious statements.
MIMS – Govt. would have to prove – made false statement to MS Dept. of Health about safe drinking water regulations. Made it intentionally. Statement was material, and made statement to mislead MDH.
AYCOCK – Possible penalties … up to 5 years in prison, $250,000 fine. 3 years supervised release. (Durham says he understands.) Court could order restitution, if it applies.
Asks him to look at plea agreement he signed. Dated Sept. 7, 2012.
MIMS – Reads parts of plea agreement. Plead guilty to Count One. Govt. agrees not to charge him with anything else related to the case.
AYCOCK – Plea supplement, filed under seal. Won’t have it read aloud. He signed it.
(Farese says he reviewed these documents with Durham.)
Also, will lose your right to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, own or possess a firearm.
To understand that sentence guidelines are not mandatory. I may choose more or less severe. (He says no one has promised him anything about sentence.)
FACTUAL BASIS – MIMS reads into the record: Prove that with North Lee Water Assn. … Durham lied about taking water samples. Jan. 1, 2011 – Aug. 3, 2011 he was manager. During that time, employees took samples from one locations, 551 County Road 503, Lee County, instead of from various locations. Submitted to Health Dept. with form citing where, etc. about samples taken.
Employees, at Durham’s direction, falsified information to Dept. of Health. False information. Especially, samples taken from same location. Health Dept. undertakes this work authorized by U.S. EPA to monitor public drinking water. (That makes this a federal crime.)
AYCOCK – (Asks him if that’s true?) Yes ma’am, he says. Yes (he says he is guilty.)
In this case, do you plead guilty or not guilty? Durham – guilty.
Accepts his plea of guilty.
Doesn’t know date of his sentencing. Will receive a copy of your pre-sentencing report. May object to any of its findings. You may speak at sentencing. Probation Service advises that he be on $5,000 unsecured bond. You will be released pending sentencing.
(AYCOCK speaks with attorneys in sidebar. They laugh at her comments.)
1:59 – proceeding over.