HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Trial began Tuesday for the Hattiesburg minister accused of skimming money from a housing project financed with federal funds.

WDAM-TV reports (http://bit.ly/2cqSlWO) U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, who’s presiding over the trial against Rev. Kenneth Fairley, denied his motion for dismissal and ordered testimony to begin. Fairley’s counsel had argued that a former co-defendant, developer Artie Fletcher, has been a government informant and that could hurt Fairley’s case.

Starrett denied the motion and the prosecution called its first witness, Andrew Ellard, at about 3 p.m.

Ellard formerly worked for the City of Hattiesburg, overseeing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The jury — seven women and five men — was dismissed just before 6 p.m., and Ellard was still on the stand.

Trial was to resume Wednesday with continued questioning of Ellard.

Fairley is pastor of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church and a longtime political ally of Mayor Johnny DuPree.

Fairley and Fletcher, of Picayune, were indicted in March as authorities alleged Fletcher helped Fairley skim $120,000 by inflating bills for rehabilitating three houses in a project financed by federal funds passed through Hattiesburg city government.

Fletcher, owner of New Orleans-based Interurban Development, pleaded guilty Friday to a lesser charge admitting he had knowledge of a crime he failed to report. He has participated in dozens of real estate deals in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Fairley’s attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss: “Artie Fletcher, while acting as a government informant, improperly obtained defendant Fairley’s confidential, privileged communications and trial strategies, and shared that information with the United States Attorney’s Office.”

Fairley’s attorneys also say prosecutors and federal investigators had been working with Fletcher to “entrap” Fairley and that only on the weekend before the trial did federal authorities tell Fairley’s defense team about “evidence that they had withheld wrongly for years.”

Fletcher’s sentencing is set for Dec. 19. He faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


Information from: WDAM-TV, http://www.wdam.com