David Chandler sentencing trial

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 16, 2012

Not yet: judge delays Chandler sentencing after Magee testifies

By Billy Davis

A federal judge sealed her courtroom to the public Wednesday afternoon to allow Kelley Magee, Panola County’s administrator, to testify prior to the sentencing of former administrator David Chandler.

The sentencing is now on hold.

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Chandler was set to be sentenced for embezzlement and mail fraud before U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in the third-floor courtroom in Oxford. He pleaded guilty last December in a plea deal.

Magee’s testimony to the court was done in secret, and she said later she could not comment about the incident.

Magee did acknowledge she took the stand but was unsure for how long.

Attorneys who were present for Chandler’s sentencing told a reporter they had never seen a courtroom sealed for witness testimony prior to a defendant’s sentencing.

Chandler was represented at the hearing by attorney Hiram Eastland Jr. Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Dabbs represented the U.S. government.

Restitution for county

Chandler’s sentencing hearing began at 1:45 when Aycock took the bench and began hearing attorneys debate Chandler’s proper restitution for his crimes.

Eastland suggested that Panola County “was not out any money” despite his client’s schemes, including a kickback scheme for construction work and a secret company that collected delinquent garbage fees.

Chandler has paid back approximately $95,000 to the State Auditor, of which $85,000 went to Panola County, and $120,000 has been deducted from Chandler’s state retirement, his attorney claimed.

Aycock pointed out that the federal Probation Court “took issue” with restitution so far and stated that approximately $33,000 is still owed.

“There are some sums of money he’s not paying back to the county because the statute of limitations has run out,” the judge told Eastland.

Then the judge explained to Chandler that she had received supportive letters from family members, friends and others asking the court to grant leniency at sentencing.

Aycock also announced she had received some letters from the public asking the court to “not grant leniency,” which she called a “bit unusual” in a public corruption case.

Magee called as witness

At approximately 2:10 Judge Aycock asked for Magee, seated in the rear of the courtroom, to come forward, apparently to testify.

Before Magee could take the stand, attorneys huddled at the bench with the judge and Magee for several minutes, then Judge Aycock announced Magee’s testimony would be done under seal.

The public was permitted to return at approximately 3 p.m., when Aycock announced Chandler’s sentencing had been postponed until a date to be determined.

Aycock said “matters” had been brought to the court’s attention, and she would need more time to set an “acceptable” sentencing and “acceptable” restitution based on new information — apparently referring to Magee.

‘Some suspicions’

Magee has said little publicly about the investigation centered around Chandler, though she was credited during trial for providing information to federal authorities that started inquiry of Chandler.

Chandler retired from Panola County government during budget preparations in August 2008, the same month Magee began working as Panola County’s second county administrator since 1987.

Some county supervisors who hired Magee said they were eager for a new pair of eyes to look at the county’s books after Chandler departed.  

“There were some suspicions during budget time, like something wasn’t right, and we were anxious for somebody to take a closer took at our numbers,” said Kelly Morris, the District 4 supervisor who is currently the board president.  

Morris recalled that the Board of Supervisors was forced to increase millage that year, Chandler’s last as administrator, because county government was in the red.  

Chandler was a key witness for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a wide-ranging probe of bribery and embezzlement, but defense attorneys questioned his credibility during the weeklong trial earlier this year.

An FBI agent admitted on the stand that Chandler had repeatedly lied to federal authorities during their investigation.

Due in part to Chandler’s cooperation with federal authorities, a jury convicted businessman Lee Garner and Ray Shoemaker, the former Tri-Lakes executive, on bribery and kickback charges. Garner’s conviction was later tossed out but Shoemaker is in prison while his conviction is being appealed.

The investigation also netted physician Robert Corkern and insurance agent Richard Edgerton, who were sentenced this week in Oxford. (See related story, page A1).  

Defense attorneys claimed at trial that Chandler was cooperating with federal authorities while facing 325 years in prison on 26 counts of federal crimes.

Chandler testified at trial in March that he is facing 21 to 27 months in prison after cooperating with federal prosecutors.