Stirgus says he’s shocked by drug arrest

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2008

Vicksburg Housing Authority Director Jim Stirgus Sr. said Saturday that he was “shocked and petrified” when he heard a long-time supervisor for the agency had been charged a day earlier with cocaine distribution.

“When I first started getting calls about it I didn’t even believe it was true,” Stirgus said of VHA Maintenance Supervisor Charles Jones Jr. “He took money to the bank for us, did all of the maintenance and bought everything for the housing authority. I trusted him 100 percent.”

Stirgus said Jones, whose annual salary was $48,000, has been fired.

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Jones, 45, 924 Bowmar Ave., was arrested around 4 p.m. Friday in possession of 2.2 pounds of cocaine delivered through the mail to the VHA administrative office at 131 Elizabeth Circle, Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett said.

Jones was arrested a short distance from the office after picking up the package and remained in the Warren County Jail without bond Saturday night.

Jones had worked for VHA since 1983 and had been in charge of maintenance, purchasing and receiving since 1991.

Moffett, who said he believes Jones was supplying cocaine to residents of housing authority properties, would not say exactly from where the package was shipped, only that it was from outside of Mississippi and within the United States.

With the arrest coming late Friday, Moffett said, officers would spend the weekend sorting through evidence and potential charges before further action on Monday.

Stirgus said he has known Jones since Stirgus was superintendent of the Vicksburg Separate Municipal School District and Jones was in elementary school. He recommended Jones for the supervisor position at VHA and said he never suspected Jones of using or selling drugs.

Stirgus said one of his biggest concerns now is that the VHA — which has been the recipient of multiple state and national awards of excellence through the years — will have its reputation tarnished because of Jones’ arrest.

“I don’t want this to be a black eye for the housing authority, although I know some people will look at it that way,” he said.

In 1996, Jones was recognized as Maintenance Man of the Year by the Mississippi Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and was presented with the Harold B. Panter Award.

At that time Stirgus said the award validated his recommendation of Jones for the supervisory position, and Jones in turn acknowledged Stirgus’ help in advancing his career.

“Mr. Stirgus has helped me a lot,” Jones told The Vicksburg Post for a story about the award. “He believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. He saw something in me.”

Stirgus said Saturday he felt betrayed and will take on Jones’ duties himself.

“After this, I don’t feel like I can trust anyone,” he said.

Moffett, whose department worked with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department in the investigation, said he first heard Jones was selling drugs more than five years ago from people who lived in VHA properties.

However, Jones’ senior position at VHA made it difficult to gather hard evidence, Moffett said.

When authorities arrived at Jones’ home, next door to Bowmar Avenue Elementary, they found and confiscated thousands of dollars in merchandise, Moffett said. He said items found there included power tools, generators, lawn equipment, cleaning supplies and 70 cases of beer — much of which had not been opened. Several items valued at more than $500 had shipping labels on them showing they had been delivered to the housing authority office, said Moffett.

“It was like he was running a store out of his house. Anybody who would have gone into Charles Jones’ house would have seen this stuff. It wasn’t hidden,” he said.

While he has known and worked with Jones for many years, Stirgus said he could remember going to his home “maybe once” and did not recall going inside.

As of Saturday evening, Moffett said he had not spoken with Stirgus, but wants to discuss with him the details of Jones’ purchasing authority and how invoices were completed for the purchases. Moffett has said he believes much of the merchandise discovered at Jones’ home was either stolen from the housing authority or fraudulently purchased by Jones as a VHA employee.

“The issue is, did Charles Jones have the authority to just buy anything he wanted at any time? What was the procedure for oversight and invoices?” Moffett said.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said five vehicles — including a Cadillac, a Mercedes and a Chevrolet Corvette — discovered at Jones’ home are being stored locally temporarily for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, which likely will take them to Jackson headquarters next week. Also being held are a motorcycle and a dune buggy, but Pace emphasized MBN ultimately will decide if any of the items will be  seized from Jones.

Stirgus has openly criticized the Vicksburg Police Department in the past for a lack of drug-related arrests on VHA property — which includes Waltersville Estates, Cedar Estates and Urban Court — but said Saturday he had a clearer picture now of why few arrests were made.

“I was making lists of people who I knew were using or selling drugs, and (Jones) was standing there while I made the lists,” he said.

Moffett said he has discussed with Stirgus VHA residents who showed potential signs of selling or using drugs, but he could not recall if Jones had ever been present when such discussions were held. However, he said he was sure he had never personally spoken with Jones before his arrest.


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