HATTIESBURG – Pastor and political activist the Rev. Kenneth Fairley Sr. was found guilty Monday on all three counts he conspired and stole U.S. government money through a local housing rehabilitation program.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett ordered the senior pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church held in federal custody until he is sentenced. He faces up to 20 years and a large fine. A unanimous decision was required to convict Fairley.
Fairley insisted he was innocent. His attorneys are expected to appeal his conviction.
The federal jury found Fairley guilty of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of about $60,000 and then receiving and retaining federal funds by conducting work on two houses for less than his Pinebelt Community Services group estimated the work could be accomplished.
After several hours behind closed doors, the jury told Starrett that they were deadlocked but he sent them back for further deliberation.
Shock and dismay were on the faces of Fairley’s friends and congregation members in the courtroom after the verdict was announced. Before the verdict, his wife, Sandra, could be seen humming quietly to herself. Asked about her feelings, she said, “God’s got it.”
The government said that between August 2010 and December 2012 Fairley and developer Artie Fletcher of Picayune conspired to rehab houses as cheaply as possible – for about $38,000 – but bill the government about $98,000.
In spirited remarks to the jury, defense attorney Bertram Marks of Detroit asked, “Is it a crime to be charitable? That’s all Pinebelt tried to do.” Pinebelt Community Services is Fairley’s nonprofit organization undertaking a range of activities in the area, including the housing project.
Fairley is a political activist best known for managing Mayor Johnny Dupree’s multiple successful campaigns as the city’s chief executive.
Marks also asked the jury to question why Fletcher was not produced as a witness but heard only through his own audiotapes.
“The government was duped by Artie Fletcher,” he answered. “They didn’t bring him before you because they knew he was a liar.”
The government’s case against Fairley stems from a 2013 civil lawsuit Fletcher filed, spelling out his account of the housing rehab scheme. The lawsuit was never prosecuted.
Abe McGlothin, assistant U.S. attorney, told the jury that the government proved its case against Fairley.
Fairley and Fletcher “had a plan going on – they knew they would do little work for little cost and they would come out big,” McGlothin said.
Fletcher was indicted with Fairley in March, but about 10 days ago he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of knowing a felony was being committed but failing to tell authorities. He faces up to five years in prison.