Grand Jury Issues Indictments In Vancleave Land Development

A federal grand jury has indicted three individuals and two corporations for violations of wetlands laws involving a development in the Vancleave area.

In a 41-count indictment made public Thursday, Robert Lucas Jr. of Lucedale, his daughter Robbie Lucas Wrigley of Ocean Springs and M.E. Thompson Jr. of D'Iberville were indicted on violations of the Clean Water Act in a 2,600-acre housing development known as Big Hill Acres.

Two corporations, Big Hill Acres Inc. and Consolidated Investments Inc., both controlled by Lucas, were accused of conspiracy and mail fraud.

Prosecutors said the individuals and the companies are accused of having sold home sites to hundreds of families in spite of warnings from public health officials that they were illegally installing septic tanks in saturated soil. He said the individuals and the corporations were told the systems were likely to fail and contaminate the property and drinking water.

The indictment alleges that as early as 1996, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned Lucas that large sections of the Big Hill Acres were on federally protected wetlands and could not be developed as home sites.

The indictment also alleges that other regulators notified Lucas of the public health threat of putting septic tanks in saturated soil. The indictment alleges Lucas and the others ignored the warnings and cease and desist orders from the corps and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The indictment alleges residents have suffered from flooding and the discharge of sewage from failed septic systems.

"Big Hill residents were sold property on representations that the lots they were buying were good home sites for them and their families,'' said U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton. "Instead the defendants sold them wetlands and illegally septic systems that failed and discharged sewage into their yards and homes.''

Lampton said the government sought criminal charges because the warnings from state and federal regulators were ignored and the orders violated.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)