Warr trial delayed a month

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Brent and Laura Warr must wait one more month to defend themselves against a 20 count indictment.  Their FEMA fraud trial was supposed to be on September 8, 2009.  But when they appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to additional bank fraud charges, a federal magistrate rescheduled their trial for October 5, 2009.

The Warrs walked into the federal courthouse flanked by Brent Warr's parents.  The defendants politely said "Hi" to media members and entered the front door.  Inside the courtroom, the former mayor and his wife stood next to each other, answering each question Federal Magistrate Robert Walker asked with either "Yes, your honor" or "No, your honor."

While the magistrate read through his list of questions, Warr could be seen either holding his wife's hand, or gently caressing her back.

The bank fraud charges the couple suddenly faces were filed last week.  Counts 17, 18, 19 and 20 accuse the Warrs of falsifying loan papers to receive $470,000 in 2003 and 2004.

According to the indictment, a $140,000 came from Countrywide Home Loans.  It was for a house on Coleman Road in Gulfport. The indictment says the Warrs' noted on their loan application that the Coleman Road home was their primary residence.  Prosecutors contend the couple actually "had a commercial lease on said property to others utilizing the property as a personal care home."

The remaining $333,000 loan was from Coast Community Bank.  In that case, the Warrs reportedly wrote on their loan application that a home on Evergreen Lane was providing them rental income.  The government says it can prove the defendants actually "occupied said residence, thereby providing false income."

Brent Warr gave a very brief statement after Wednesday's short court appearance.  He said, "We'd love to tell you more, but right now we're going to keep all our comments where they belong, in the courtroom.  We will make those comments then.  My main concern is protecting my family.  And that's what we intend to do."

His wife's attorney is Frank Trapp.  When he was asked his thoughts about the four new charges, Trapp said, "Well, in football they call it piling on."

Joe Sam Owen is representing the former Gulfport mayor.

"It's definitely piling on," Owen said.  "And as I said before, it makes our work more complicated in terms of preparation.  But it's not going to change our approach."

The government's case against the Warrs is now spelled out in a 20 count indictment.  The first 16 counts are the FEMA fraud allegations filed in January.  They accuse the Warrs of illegally receiving $220,000 after Katrina to rebuild their beachfront home.  That money reportedly came from FEMA, the Mississippi Development Authority, and Lexington Insurance.

The bank fraud charges are counts 17-20.  When you add the FEMA fraud and the bank fraud charges together, the Warrs are accused of illegally receiving $697,498.10.

Because the bank fraud charges were tacked on last week, Federal Magistrate Robert Walker postponed the Warrs' trial from September to October.  Owen was eager to start as soon as possible.

"We may need additional time.  However, at this point, I would rather keep it on the same track."

Trapp said without the delay, he would need some help to keep to the original schedule.

"I'm not as optimistic as Mr. Owen is," Trapp told the court.  When the schedule was reset, and October 5 became the new trial date, Trapp told the judge, "This could be the 30 days I was looking for."

The extra month will give defense attorneys time to go through a CD they just received from the government.  It has about a thousand pages of documents related to the bank fraud charges that were just filed.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.