Ex-worker admits trying to cheat city

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 29, 2002

[05/29/02]The former Vicksburg maintenance-shop worker whose arrest triggered widespread speculation about corruption in city government pleaded guilty Tuesday.

Steve Gregory Hugley, 41, 1585 Mosley Gap Road, admitted trying to cheat the city out of the cost of a pickup engine as his trial was set to begin in Warren County Circuit Court.

Judge Isadore Patrick imposed a three-year suspended prison term, three years’ probation, forfeiture of the engine and payment of a $3,500 fine and $273 in costs.

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Hugley was charged with conspiring to commit false pretenses in February 2000 after an inquiry by the management of a local NAPA auto parts franchise led to a criminal investigation, Warren County Assistant District Attorney John Bullard said.

State investigators became involved and, at the time, said a broad inquiry into the city’s purchasing and other practices would be conducted.

Hugley was the only municipal employee charged.

The sentence was agreed to by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen, which also agreed to release to Hugley his Chevrolet S-10 pickup but without its engine.

“The engine was ordered using the City of Vicksburg’s customer number,” Bullard said, “but when it was delivered, Steve Hugley took possession of it.”

The city was not directly billed for the engine, but NAPA was to be reimbursed for it over time through the city’s payment of numerous deliberately false bills for miscellaneous common parts that were never to be delivered, Bullard said. Hugley would submit false written support for the bills, saying he had installed the parts listed on the invoices when in fact they were never received, Bullard said.

“The purchase-order number relates to a worksheet where Hugley said, Yes, I did this work,'” Bullard said. “The bills matched the worksheets.”

The NAPA manager who was a co-defendant of Hugley’s pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to three years’ probation and payment of $3,920.21 as a fine, costs and restitution. The restitution was for the cost of the engine, Bullard said.

As part of the plea agreement, the state dropped the charge against the third defendant, Hugley’s wife, Bullard said.

The three were indicted in July 2000, after a NAPA management inquiry led to an investigation by Vicksburg Police Capt. Mark Culbertson and attorney general’s office investigator Scott Womack, Bullard said.

“The engine was a big enough item that it raised the interest of a district manager at NAPA,” Bullard said. “Upon inquiring about the engine, (the local store manager co-defendant) admitted the deal. At trial, (he) was expected to testify about all that.”

As part of the investigation, it was revealed that Vicksburg’s inventory of purchased goods was years out of date, making it non-existent for investigatory purposes.