US Attorney Larry Keefe announces outcome of investigation into “widespread public corruption.”
PANAMA CITY — Lawrence Keefe, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, announced Friday that 29 people, including elected and appointed federal, state and local government officials, have been indicted for conspiring to steal thousands in taxpayer dollars.
LIST of 29 people indicted
The scheme’s kingpin was Duane Crawson, 43, a Bonifay resident who worked as the executive director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency serving the counties of Holmes, Washington and Bay, Keefe said at a Panama City news conference.
Crawson, it is alleged, concocted a kickback scheme through which he and those indicted with him stole an estimated $373,483 in drought assistance dollars intended to help livestock farmers who’d suffered a loss of grazing land during a dry period in 2017.
Crawson and a select group of associates, including Holmes County Clerk of Court Kyle Hudson and former Holmes County Farm Bureau President Jeremiah Rolling, initiated the kickback scheme, than expanded it by recruiting others, officials said.
As a Farm Service employee, Crawson was able to submit claims for funding through the Livestock Forage Disaster Program. He requested funds for livestock and farmland parcels that were not owned or leased by the conspirators, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Coody told reporters.
Crawson received cash kickbacks from his co-conspirators when their drought relief checks were deposited, according to Coody.
All 29 indicted made their first appearance in Federal Court Nov. 14. Each defendant faces a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of government funds. The first charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The second a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Crawson and three others caught up in the scheme, Davey Mancill, James Paul and Danyel Witt, have also been charged with aggravated identify theft, which carries a maximum of two years in prison. Crawson also faces charges of income tax evasion and obstruction of Internal Revenue Laws.
The list of 29 people indicted >>
Twenty eight of the 29 indicted were listed as having addresses in Chipley, Bonifay, Westville Caryville or Ponce de Leon.
Hudson, the former Holmes County Clerk of Court, had been charged by federal agents in October with wire fraud.
He has pleaded not guilty to an accusation that, while holding elected office, he stole more than $6,800 in taxpayer dollars by submitting fraudulent travel reimbursement claims.
It did not appear that the new charges are related to those previously filed against Hudson.
Also among those indicted was Dwayne White, a former city of Bonifay police officer. White had previously been arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for selling opioids out of his marked patrol car while in uniform.
Rolling, the former Farm Bureau president, is a resident of Westville who was employed at the time of his indictment as an investigator with the Public Defender’s Office, according to a news release presented at the news conference.
Others indicted include two former Department of Corrections officers, a U.S. Postal Service worker, two Bonifay city employees, a Farm Bureau secretary and an employee with the Holmes County Council on Aging.
The investigation that led to the indictments was conducted by a Public Trust Unit established by Keefe in August. Friday, he called the group the “tip of the spear in the fight against public corruption.”
“The grievous nature of this alleged network of corruption represents a flagrant abuse of power and position,” Keefe said.
“This indictment should send an unmistakable message to anyone considering going down a parallel path to corrupt and criminal activities. that if you do not stop, we will come for you as well, just as we have come for those who have already engaged in corrupt activity,” he said.
Keefe said the investigation that led to the indictments announced Friday is ongoing. He said his office expects some of those facing charges to cooperate with authorities in ways that could advance the continuing inquiry.
He also said he anticipates additional revelations of corruption involving public officials to be made public in the very near future.
The list of 29 people indicted >>