FBI agents and Mobile County deputies raid Prichard water board building
Agents also search several houses throughout Mobile County, including home of former operations manger
PRICHARD, Ala. (WALA) – Federal agents raided the water system’s office Tuesday, along with several homes throughout Mobile County.
Tommy Loftis, a spokesman for the FBI field office in Mobile, confirmed that agents were “participating in a multi-agency investigation.” He declined to say how many addresses the agency was targeting. He also did not divulge details about what investigators were looking for, but Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board attorney Jay Ross said it is not hard to figure out.
“So, I would think, you know, the misappropriation of funds,” he said. “What else would it be about? That’s clearly the case, we assume.”
That is a reference to allegations that first surfaced earlier this month centering on credit card purchases by the system’s former operations manager, Nia Bradley, and other former employees.
Ross has called it the “worst case of public corruption” he has ever seen and says potentially personal expenses charged to utility credit cards could total $1.5 million. And that might not be all the FBI is looking at, he added.
“I’m sure they’ll look as wide as they can to see whatever else has occurred beyond credit card purchases,” he said. “And there is evidence of things other than credit cards have been misappropriated.”
The raid occurred shortly before the water board was supposed to meet to discuss the misspending allegations. But the raid prompted a postponement; federal agents finally left at ab out 8:45 p.m. after searching for nearly six hours. Agents hauled away reams of documents and computer equipment. Agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division also could be seen during the operation.
Bradley’s home was among the addresses that FBI agents raided Tuesday. Her attorney, Jason Darley, said it is no surprise.
“Any time, you know, you have public comments about an investigation that’s ongoing, you know, you kind of expect this stuff,” he told FOX10 News. “You know, so it was a matter of time.”
Darley said he does not know precisely what the agents were looking for.
“I assume that it’s going to be computers, papers, you know, just the general stuff that they look at,” he said. “You know, I would say bank record, credit card statements, anything that they’re going to, you know, seek to make a case.”
Darley said he has not been told of any allegations against his client except for the credit card charges. And he repeated his contention that the board authorized them.
Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner has been quiet about the unfolding controversy in the water system. Although the council appoints the board members, the mayor has no direct oversight, and the utility operates independently of the city.
But the mayor spoke about the issue for the first time Tuesday, suggesting reform is needed to ensure more accountability and noting that the city has had its own disputes with the utility, including a lawsuit accusing the system of failing to provide adequate service to fire hydrants. At one point, City Hall found itself without service.
“They cut the city water off,” he said. “You know that … We got to have better control mechanisms, policies and processes that need to be put in place that will help us move this water board in right place and the right direction.”
While federal agents were conducting their search, no one was allowed to enter or leave, leaving some customers unable to pay their bills. Ross said the office should be open as normal Wednesday. As for the board meeting that was to have taken place Tuesday, he said he hopes to reschedule it sometime after Mardi Gras.
Updated at 9:23 p.m. with new information.
Copyright 2022 WALA. All rights reserved.