Second guilty plea entered

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Staff Report

BIRMINGHAM – A Demopolis man has agreed to plead guilty to charges that he misappropriated federal funds through false invoices to West Alabama Health Services.

Federal prosecutors say Charles Edward Mullen, the owner of a vehicle repair business that had contracts with the now-defunct Eutaw-based agency that provided medical care to the Black Belt’s poor, conspired with others between December 1997 and December 2000 to misappropriate federal grant funds through a false invoice scheme and that Mullen filed a false tax return for calendar year 1998.

Mullen and an unnamed coconspirator would obtain money from WAHS through invoices created to falsely represent that Mullen had provided certain services to WAHS when, in fact, the services were not provided, said U.S. Attorney Alice Martin.

Mullen would cash the WAHS checks issued as a result of the false invoices and share the money with a co-conspirator.

According to information released by Martin’s office, Mullen’s ’98 tax return was fraudulent because he falsely claimed a deduction for the items on the false invoices.

“This information marks the second vendor who has agreed to plead guilty to submitting false invoices to WAHS and represents a significant step in the investigation of wrongdoing at WAHS,” said U.S. Attorney Alice H. Martin. “The investigation is continuing.”

Asst. U.S. Attorney George Martin, the government’s lead prosecutor, told the Associated Press that Mullen’s company did perform some legitimate work of WAHS vehicles, but that the company also submitted false invoices.

Edward Ward Jr., also of Demopolis, pleaded guilty in September to conspiring to misappropriate money from the health agency through a false invoice scheme. A WAHS secretary was also acquitted of perjury and obstruction charges last month.

WAHS shut down in 2002 after fraud and mismanagement allegations surfaced, prompting the government to terminate its grants. The agency operated 20 clinics in 17 counties and received about $6 million annually to provide care.

The WAHS case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, and Health&Human Services, Office of Inspector General.