Vicksburg, Miss. mayor faces federal bribery charges

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JACKSON, Miss. — Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield was granted bond Thursday after being arraigned on a federal bribery charge that says he was caught in an FBI investigation while seeking a $10,000 bribe for a city contract.

The 39-year-old Democrat wore an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles during his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball ordered Winfield to be released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Winfield answered the judge’s questions in a strong, clear voice during the brief hearing but did not address the allegations against him. He did not enter a plea.

After the hearing, Winfield’s lawyer, John Colette, said the case at this point is just an allegation made by an FBI agent at this point but it’s too early to comment on the specific allegations. Colette said Winfield has no intention of resigning.

“It’s a tough situation, but I think he’s handling it well,” Colette said.

Winfield is completing his first term as mayor of the historic Mississippi River city, the site of a pivotal Civil War battle. He recently qualified to seek re-election.

The criminal complaint says a confidential FBI informant called Winfield on July 17, 2012, to discuss “pre-event disaster contracts” with the city.

It says the two met at a Jackson restaurant the next day, and the informant asked Winfield what it would take to get the contract.

“Winfield responded ‘Ten’ and held up 10 fingers, signifying $10,000,” the complaint says.

Winfield agreed to take half the money up front and the rest after the contract was awarded, according to the complaint. The complaint says the source paid Winfield $5,000 in hundred dollar bills that had been provided by the FBI.

In August, Winfield called the informant and said he owed $4,300 in taxes and was “in a bind,” the complaint said. They later met in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Natchez, where the source gave Winfield another $2,000 and promised to give him the remaining $3,000 when the contract was awarded, according to the complaint.

Daniel McMullen, the FBI special agent in charge in Mississippi, said in a news release that Winfield was arrested Wednesday afternoon at his home. He was held overnight in the Madison County Jail in Canton.

If convicted, Winfield could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Lee D. Thames Jr., Vicksburg’s city attorney, said Thursday that city officials were “blindsided” by Winfield’s arrest and declined to comment because he said he didn’t know the specific charges against the mayor.

Winfield also is the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former city employee.

The former employee said she had a consensual sexual relationship with the mayor but ended it when he became “physically abusive,” according to the complaint filed Feb. 1, 2012.

She said the mayor continued to make unwanted sexual advances and offered to pay her overtime that she had not earned. The lawsuit alleges Winfield retaliated when he was rejected by eliminating her position as chief of staff.

Winfield has denied the allegations.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 10, 2014, before U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlette.

Winfield, a lawyer, was a partner in the firm Winfield and Moran before becoming mayor. He also served a brief time as municipal judge in Port Gibson, where he later worked as the attorney for the city. He also had served as the lawyer for the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

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