Sentence Begins 4/26/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 26, 2013

Chandler serving time in low-security prison

By David Howell
and Billy Davis

David Chandler, the former Panola County administrator, started serving his 14-month prison sentence Monday in a low-security federal prison in Yazoo City.

The longtime county official, who retired in 2008, was facing a federal indictment when he began cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford by accusing others of bribery and corruption.
Chandler’s finger pointing eventually netted convictions of:
•   Ray Shoemaker, the former Tri-Lakes Medical Center executive;
•   Businessman Lee Garner, who owns a nurse staffing service;
•   Physician Robert Corkern, who also worked at Tri-Lakes.
•   Madison insurance agent Richard Edgarton.

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Of the federal convictions, only Garner has walked away free. Defense attorneys for Garner appealed his conviction, and U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers agreed with the appeal and tossed out the conviction. Some counts against Shoemaker were also dropped.

Chandler testified at a federal trial in 2011 that he was facing 21 to 27 months in prison after cooperating with federal prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to embezzlement and mail fraud last December as part of the plea deal.

Generous salaries
In 1987 Chandler started as Panola County administrator, Panola County’s first, with an annual salary of $38,000 — then the biggest in county government, The Panolian reported at the time.

Chandler was a field auditor for the State Dept. of Audit when David Ross Craig, the Board of Supervisors president, told his fellow supervisors that other counties were wooing Chandler, too.

When Chandler retired from Panola County government in 2008, he was making $96,756 annually — approximately $7,400 monthly. The beginning salary in 1987 equals approximately $18 hourly.

Magee told The Panolian in 2011 that Panola County government was also paying Chandler $27,252 yearly to oversee the self-help housing program.

He was also being paid $5,600 yearly to oversee an annual federal grant that provided seasonal law enforcement at Sardis Lake, Magee said, citing county records.

Generous crimes
Panola County was always generous to Chandler, and for whatever reason he sought more:
•   He created and hid his name in a private company, Absolute Recovery, to collect overdue Solid Waste fees from Panola Countians. The company collected 25 percent of every fee, totaling $51,024 in two years.
•   He collected $84,296 in faked and illegal overtime.
•   He collected $33,564 in kickbacks for unnecessary construction projects.
•   He solicited a $25,000 bribe from Corkern to transfer county funds to Tri-Lakes.
•   He received kickbacks from Edgarton, who oversaw health insurance coverage for the county.
•   After retiring he illegally worked as a contract employee for $7,500 monthly.
•   He falsified documents for the PERS retirement account.

Magee, the current county administrator, acknowledged in 2011 that she looked into Absolute Recovery after she received a tip, just weeks after she was hired by the Board of Supervisors.

Magee credited Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock for helping her track down Absolute and tying it to Chandler. When Magee told him about the tip, Pitcock used a county check written to Absolute Recovery to locate the Greenwood bank where Chandler was depositing the checks.

Magee had remained quiet about her role until Prosecutor Charlie Spillers credited her work two years ago, telling Judge Aycock that the new administrator had uncovered Chandler’s cover-up.

“This has been a four and a half year process that is now finished,” Magee told The Panolian this week. “We appreciate the work of U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI agents on this case to help Panola County get our missing funds back.”

She noted that Mississippi State Auditor Stacy Pickering has handed over approximately $89,000 to Panola County, which his office recovered from Chandler. Chandler has also been ordered to pay $33,564 in restitution to the county.

“We can now put this behind use and continue to move forward,” she added. 

Life in prison
The Yazoo City prison is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. A spokesman for the federal agency said Chandler is probably undergoing an orientation at the moment, which includes receiving his uniforms, a medical screening, and learning the prison rules.

Chandler will be assigned to his living quarters, probably an open dormitory with bunk beds. He will also be assigned an “upkeep job,” such as landscaping or food service, said the spokesman. 
Appeal delay denied
Chandler’s sentence started after Aycock ruled last Thursday to deny his motion asking for more time to appeal his sentence. Chandler had missed the court-imposed deadline to appeal his February 28 sentence handed down by Aycock. He had until March 29 to appeal the sentence.

Two weeks after the deadline, on April 12, Chandler filed a motion asking to file an “Out of Time Appeal.” In the four-page motion, Chandler’s attorney, Hiram C. Eastland, reported that Chandler “was in a severe state of depression since the sentencing” and wasn’t aware of the deadline.

In the court’s response, dated April 18, Chandler’s motion was denied, citing that “he did not offer any evidence of a diagnosis or treatment that would support his assertion that a severe state of depression took away his ability to make a decision regarding his right to appeal.”

The court also noted that Chandler’s sentence was a “below-guideline range” sentence.

In addition to the 14 months incarceration, Chandler was also sentenced to three years supervised release and 200 hours of community service in Panola County.

It’s not clear how Chandler will perform his community service or how that job is decided.