Marengo citizens implied in conspiracy

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 2, 2004

Two area residents have been implicated in a conspiracy scheme that milked federal grant money from a Eutaw-based health agency.

Edward Ward Jr., 44, of Demopolis, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of federal conspiracy.

Cynthia Agee, 39, of Linden, has been indicted by a Birmingham grand jury on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

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U.S. Attorney Alice Martin announced Thursday that Ward will plead guilty to charges that he, along with co-conspirators, obtained money from West Alabama Health Services through an invoice scheme. According to a “criminal information” released by Martin, Ward apparently created invoices to falsely represent that he had provided certain services to WAHS.

Specifics concerning the services were not detailed in Martin’s release.

“Together with the indictment of Cynthia Agee, which was returned by the Grand Jury today, this information marks a significant step in the investigation of wrongdoing at WAHS,” Martin said.

Ward and Agee could not be reached for comment late Thursday. However, Ward’s agreement to plead guilty may indicate that he can help prosecutors in the case.

According to Martin, more charges could be filed against other suspects in the WAHS investigation.

“The investigation is continuing,” Martin said.

In a grand jury indictment returned Thursday, Agee has been charged with lying to a grand jury and asking another witness to lie during the course of the WAHS investigation.

Specifics of the recent WAHS investigation could not be confirmed Thursday night. However, Assistant District Attorney Alec Braswell indicated the investigation has been ongoing for a number of years.

WAHS is an organization created by the federal government to help with indigent care in Alabama. In Greene County, the health service agency devoted time to HIV/AIDS education and counseling, and offered extensive prenatal care programs for those who could not afford standard medical coverage. Dr. Sandral Hullett has served as director.

In recent years, WAHS developed an effective prenatal program, thanks in part to a Ford Foundation grant. That program funded outreach into rural homes, provided educational information and helped monitor the quality of patient care.

The Ford Foundation has been active in its grant generosity to West Alabama and the Black Belt. Earlier this year, the Ford Foundation helped establish another foundation in the Black Belt, though it is unclear what all that foundation will do for the area.

Along with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Birmingham, the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigations department, the Department of Health&Human Services and the Office of Inspector General are all working on the investigation into WAHS.

With his plea agreement, which will be released in a future court proceeding, Ward could serve up to five years in prison and be fined $250,000.

Agee could serve up to five years on each count she faces.

An indictment does not mean a person has been convicted of a crime. It simply means that a grand jury has found enough evidence for the suspect to be tried on the charges.