Former VHA worker Jones pleads guilty|Deal over cocaine to negate charge on embezzlement

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In a deal revealed Monday, former Vicksburg Housing Authority maintenance director Charles Jones admitted cocaine possession and avoided a second drug charge and an embezzlement indictment.

Jones, 45, entered the plea to Circuit Judge M. James Chaney and faces at least a 10-year prison sentence.

His trial had been set for Nov. 30, on a May indictment alleging one count of possession of more than 30 grams of cocaine and one count of possession with intent to distribute. The second count was dropped.

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Jones will remain free on bond until his sentencing at 11 a.m. Nov. 24 in Warren County Circuit Court.  Assistant District Attorney Dewey Arthur told Chaney the DA’s office will make its sentencing recommendation at that time. Sentencing guidelines for Jones, a first-time offender, require 10 to 30 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines, Arthur said.

“We have made a plea offer to him that was not made part of the record in court,” District Attorney Ricky Smith said later. He would not release the details, however. “If he does not show up for sentencing, any preliminary plea offers we made would be withdrawn.” Those include the deal not to prosecute the other two offenses, he said.

“I am really disgusted they would drop the trafficking charge,” said VHA board chairman Jay Kilroy, reached by phone from a job assignment in West Virginia. “If he gets 10 years and serves 10 years, I think it’s sufficient,” but  Kilroy added that his concern is that Jones might end up in prison for only a few years.

“They bust street dealers with only a couple of ounces,” Kilroy said. “They bust Charles Jones with a kilo, and don’t prosecute him for trafficking? It stinks to high heaven.” A kilo is 2.2 pounds and has a wholesale price of about $30,000.

Jones was to appear for arraignment Monday morning after being indicted by the October term of the Warren County Grand Jury on a charge of embezzling equipment and merchandise from the housing authority.

Instead, his lawyer informed Chaney of Jones’ intent to plead guilty and the afternoon hearing was scheduled.

Jones stood before Chaney with his hands clasped behind his back and responded quietly to each question the judge asked to make sure Jones knew the various rights he was waiving with his guilty plea. Afterward, Jones had no comment as he left the courtroom with his attorney, Ramel Cotton of the Jackson firm Morgan and Morgan.

The admission of guilt comes after Jones was arrested Dec. 19 when police said he accepted a Federal Express shipment at the housing authority office that contained the cocaine.

Then-Police Chief Tommy Moffett said Jones’ arrest was the result of a five-year investigation of narcotics dealing in various housing authority properties. James Stirgus, then VHA executive director, had complained about police not being able to keep drugs out of VHA developments, specifically Waltersville Estates, a gated apartment complex off North Washington Street that has 24-hour security.

After his arrest, Jones signed a release giving police permission to search his Bowmar Avenue home where another small package of cocaine was found, Arthur told the court.

In addition, the search turned up thousands of dollars in merchandise, including power tools, water heaters, generators and lawn equipment, some in original packaging and addressed to the VHA. Later investigations by the VHA board of trustees traced serial numbers back to invoices paid by the housing authority.

Most of the VHA’s operating budget comes from federal sources. Kilroy said today he has not been contacted by federal investigators, either about the embezzlement or the drug arrest. “If shipping cocaine from California to Mississippi isn’t federal, I don’t know what is,” he said. “Where is the federal government on this?”

Jones was freed Dec. 23 on $250,000 bond, and he was fired by Stirgus. The grand jury indicted him in May on the two drug counts.

After the embezzlement arrest May 13, charging him with stealing $4,370.55 worth of housing authority property, he was released on an additional $50,000 bond.

Smith said Jones was not sentenced Monday because he had asked to remain free until Nov. 24. “He has some medical procedures scheduled,” Smith said. “We agreed to let him remain out on bond to get those completed.”

Jones was limping as he entered and exited the courtroom, and had appeared on crutches at his May bond hearing.

Jones had worked for VHA since 1983 and had been in charge of maintenance, purchasing and receiving since 1991. In 1996, he 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.

The eventual fallout of his December arrest included the firing of Stirgus after 21 years on the job and an investigation into housing authority accounts payable procedures and records — including the discovery of thousands of dollars paid to companies for which Jones had endorsed payment checks.

Moffett also lost his job when his command of the police department became an issue in the June mayoral election, and he was fired by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen after Paul Winfield took office.

“We’re glad to see it come to an end,” Smith said. “This case received a lot of publicity and notoriety because of some of the people who were involved. I’m happy that Mr. Jones will have to answer for the crime he committed.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at