Ward pleads guilty in West Alabama Health case

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2004

EUTAW – One of two suspects charged with defrauding West Alabama Health Services in Eutaw has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to misappropriate funds through a false invoice scheme.

According to Alice H. Martin, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Edward Ward Jr., 52, of Demopolis, and his coconspirator would obtain money from WAHS, which received substantial federal funds to provide health care in medically under-served areas of rural west Alabama, through invoices created to falsely represent that Ward had provided certain services to WAHS.

When WAHS issued checks based on the false invoices, Ward and his coconspirator would cash the checks and divide the money. The amount of loss to WAHS was determined to be approximately $61,000.

Also named in the case was Cynthia Agee, 39, of Linden, who has been indicted by a Birmingham grand jury on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. 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.

“Those individuals who create schemes to defraud will eventually be caught,” Martin said. “This guilty plea should again put individuals on notice that this office is vigilant in its pursuit of prosecuting those who defraud the government.”

Ward could receive a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing will be scheduled for later this year before United States District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn.

In a grand jury indictment returned in May, Agee was charged with lying to a grand jury and asking another witness to lie during the course of the WAHS investigation, which Assistant District Attorney Alec Braswell in May indicated had 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.