Prichard water system embezzlement ‘in the millions,’ DA says
In announcing new indictments, Rich says ‘criminal enterprise’ contributed to system’s financial problems
The Prichard water board has voted to suspend Teresa Lewis without pay. She’s the current physical services manager and one of four people indicted on charges of misusing utility-issued credit cards. Prosecutors allege she charged more than 200-hundred thousand dollars’ worth of personal expenses.
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - In announcing indictments in her long-running probe into corruption at the Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich on Friday linked alleged misuse of funds to the utility’s financial troubles.
The indictments, unsealed Thursday, name two people previously arrested – former operations manager Nia Bradley and her husband – and two new defendants, a current employee and a former one.
Rich said the total amount of money embezzled is “going to be in the millions” of dollars. She pointed to recent revelations that the water system cannot afford costly repairs to broken pipes in Alabama Village that may force the system to cut off water to the neighborhood.
“Do I think the fact that these people embezzled that money is directly related to the fact that, you know, they’re having such a financial hard time? Absolutely. Absolutely,” she said during a news conference. “And I feel – my heart bleeds for the citizens of Prichard and what they’re going through right now. But it is, in my opinion, a direct result of this criminal ring.”
Board attorney Jay Ross downplayed the connection between the alleged crimes and financial instability.
“I’m not ready to comment that the problems that Ms. Bradley and others have caused by virtue of the indictments is the cause the board’s problems, financially or not,” he said.
Ross acknowledged that that the aging water system has unmet maintenance issues. He noted that operations manager Dan McCrory informed board members that leaks were costing the system $87,000 a month in lost water at Alabama Village. But he said those problems predate the current criminal investigation.
“The Alabama Village problems have lasted for dozens of years,” he said.
The indictments handed up this week are:
- Nia Malika Bradley, indicted on the same first-degree theft and aggravated theft by deception counts she was charged with earlier this year. She stands accused of putting more than $200,000 worth of personal expenses on her utility-issued credit card. Those purchases included building materials, airline tickets, hotels and luxury goods.
- Anthony Bradley, Nia Bradley’s husband, who previously had been charged with first-degree receiving stolen property. The grand jury indicted him on that charge and added two counts of fraudulent use of a credit card. Rich said that charge is related to unauthorized purchases he is accused of making on his wife’s utility credit card.
- Randy Dewarick Burden, the former public service supervisor with the utility. He is also charged with aggravated theft by deception and first-degree theft. Tax records show that Burden and Nia Bradley co-own several properties together.
- Teresa Evett Lewis, the system’s current physical operations manager. She has been charged with first-degree theft and aggravated theft by deception.
Since authorities did not add additional charges against Nia Bradley, she was not required to be book into Mobile County Metro Jail again. All of the other three defendants have been released on bail. All four defendant will be arraigned in the coming weeks.
This state and federal investigation burst into public view in February with a raid of the water board headquarters, followed by a search of Nia Bradley’s house in west Mobile that turned up box after box of high-end consumer items. Rich said she hopes ultimately to get a forfeiture order allowing her office to sell those items to generate additional revenue for the water system.
Rich described the defendants as a “criminal enterprise” and said the indictments show she was true to her word in February when she said the Bradley arrest did not mark the end of the investigation.
“We told you that this was an ongoing operation,” she said. “We had tens of thousands of pages of financial documents that we have been combing through diligently over the past months. … The most important thing for me as the district attorney is to hold the people accountable that have stolen this money from the citizens of Prichard.”
Jason Darley, Nia Bradley’s attorney, reiterated his past contention that his client had permission from board members to charge personal expenses as part of her compensation.
“The contract says what the contract says,” he said. “And so, I mean, at this point, that’s where we are. … Just bonuses and language of that nature that authorize certain expenditures.”
Ross disputed that.
“We don’t think that’s true,” he said. “There’s no evidence that the board approved that at this time. … Most current board members don’t believe that.”
Gordon Armstrong, who represents Anthony Bradley, said he is eager to learn more about what precisely prosecutors are alleging.
“If you recall from the preliminary hearing, I was very specific when I asked questions about whether there were any credit cards issued to him or in his name that they were alleging, and they said ‘no,’” he said.
Darley said it is going to be a “long process” before the case reaches trial.
“One of the big questions is who’s going to prosecute – the District Attorney’s Office? Or the federal authorities?” he said.
Rich said it is “very much an ongoing investigation” that could lead to additional charges. But she said it would be improper to speak about that in detail or speculate on when or if federal prosecutors will ack.
For now, she said, she is focused on building the strongest case possible.
“This is a huge undertaking and this is just this conduct is deplorable,” Rich said. “And we want to do everything we can to help the citizens of Prichard. And that’s what we’re doing.”
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