He’s out: Former Vicksburg mayor released from Federal prison

Published 12:15 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

RELEASED: Former Vicksburg Mayor Paul E. Winfield sits in his office in 2013 after posting bond in his bribery arrest. Winfiled has been living at a halfway house in Jackson since Feb. 25.

RELEASED: Former Vicksburg Mayor Paul E. Winfield sits in his office in 2013 after posting bond in his bribery arrest. Winfiled has been living at a halfway house in Jackson since Feb. 25.

Former Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield is living at a halfway house and working in Jackson, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman said.

Winfield, who has a law degree, is working at the office of Jackson lawyer Dennis Sweet, who defended him in 2013 after Winfield was charged with bribery in an attempt to get a company a contract with the city in exchange for $10,000. Winfield was later sentenced to 25 months in prison after pleading guilty to the charge in September 2013.

He was contacted at Sweet’s office, but declined to comment. Sweet also declined to comment.

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BOP spokesman Ed Ross said Winfield, who was an inmate at the federal prison camp in Montgomery, Ala., was transferred to the halfway house Feb. 25. His projected release date is Oct. 28. Ross said the projected release date is determined by the inmate’s sentence less credit for good conduct.

“As an inmate gets closer to their projected release date, the practice is usually to transfer them to a halfway house close to where they will be released,” he said. “The inmates live at the house, and anytime they leave, like to go to work, find a job, or go to the doctor, it has to be authorized.”

He said halfway houses are owned and operated by non-profit organizations that follow BOP guidelines. As the inmate gets closer to the release time, he added, they could be placed in in-home confinement at a regular home.

Winfield was arrested Feb. 20, 2013, and accused of trying to get a company a pre-event cleanup contract with the city in return for the $10,000. The case was in federal court because reimbursement for the cleanup would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. No contract was ever awarded.

According to the FBI’s arrest affidavit, Winfield on July 17, 2012, met a confidential FBI informant at a restaurant in Jackson, where the informant asked Winfield how much it would cost to get the city’s pre-event disaster cleanup contract, court records indicate.

“Winfield responded 10 and held up 10 fingers signifying $10,000,” FBI agent Mark Stucky wrote in the affidavit. Winfield accepted $5,000 that night, and another $2,000 on Aug. 9, 2012.

He pleaded guilty to one count of bribery on Sept. 16, 2013. He was sentenced Nov. 19 to 25 months in prison, ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and reimburse the FBI the $7,000 paid by the informant. He repaid the $7,000 in December, according to court records. He was disbarred by the Mississippi State Bar Association and is prohibited from serving in public office.

At Winfield’s sentencing hearing in Natchez, he apologized to his family and Vicksburg residents, adding, “I’m committed to making things right.”

Addressing his mother, he apologized to his parents, saying, “They raised me better than this and I owe them better than this.”

“This is one of those unfortunate cases where a public official used his office for personal gain in violation of the laws of the United States and the State of Mississippi,” U.S. District Judge David Bramlette said before sentencing Winfield. “This occurs too often at all levels of government.”

Winfield was elected mayor in 2009 when he took nearly 62 percent of the 6,870 votes cast to oust two-term incumbent Laurence Leyens.

He failed in his bid for re-election, finishing third in a six-candidate race. George Flaggs Jr. won the race in the May 7, 2013, primary with 74 percent of the vote, and was elected mayor in the June 4 general election with 77.4 percent of the vote.

Winfield is a Vicksburg native, a graduate of Warren Central High School and the University of Mississippi, where he was a defensive back on the Ole Miss Rebels football team. He has a law degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge. He attended the Executive MBA Program at Tulane University in New Orleans, but did not graduate, according to university records.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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