TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — A former community college administrator and a furniture business employee in Mississippi are facing fraud charges amid accusations that they misused public money intended to train people for jobs, the state auditor says.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that Joseph Lowder, a former dean of economic and community services with Itawamba Community College, was arraigned Monday in Lee County and released on a $5,000 bond, according to his attorney.
Eureda “Edie” Washington, with furniture manufacturing company Chapter 3 Inc., turned herself over to authorities at the Itawamba County Jail on Monday and was released after less than an hour, according to her attorney.
Lowder and Washington were indicted on separate fraud charges stemming from an investigation by Auditor Shad White. Lowder was indicted by the most recent grand jury in Lee County. Washington was indicted more a year ago but it was kept secret until now, her attorney said.
Washington is accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $680,000 for Chapter 3 Inc. from the state-funded Workforce Enhancement Training program, which is intended to help private businesses through community colleges.
The auditor’s office said Washington had previous experience applying for the training program money and she was paid a cut of the company’s award from the program. Authorities said fraudulent activities involving Washington occurred from December 2017 to February 2019. Her attorney, Jason Herring, said Washington learned of the charges Friday.
“Ms. Washington, through all of this, is somewhat dumbfounded by the news of this,” Herring told the newspaper. “We emphatically maintain our innocence.”
The owners of Chapter 3, Jennifer and David Schock, have been issued repayment demands by the auditor, but they are not facing criminal charges.
Lowder faces charges involving claims that he produced fraudulent documents to hide a double-billing scheme involving nearly $10,000, the auditor said. According to a demand letter, this scheme involved reimbursements to Itawamba Community College from the state Community College Board over job training for which the college also received payments from private companies. Authorities say these payments occurred from December 2019 to June 2020.
Lowder was economic and community services dean at Itawamba Community College from June 2016 until July 2021. State Rep. Daniel Sparks is Lowder's attorney. Sparks told the Daily Journal his client maintains he “operated properly” while employed by the college.
The auditor is demanding both Washington and Lowder repay money and investigative costs. He said Itawamba Community College must repay more than $1.4 million for failing to follow guidelines of the job training program.
“Now is the time for policymakers to acknowledge there are not enough fraud-prevention safeguards in place in our workforce training program. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on this every year," White said in a news release Monday. "We need to be sure the money is being used appropriately.”