Warr defense team wins a round in court

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Brent Warr's Katrina fraud case returned to court on Friday. The Warr defense team wanted more specifics about the mail fraud allegations filed against the Gulfport mayor and his wife. And a federal judge ruled the Warrs were entitled to that information.

The motion hearing lasted 45 minutes. In it, we learned two things. One -- that the government has until next Friday to outline the four mail fraud counts against Brent and Laura Warr. And two -- that Mayor Warr's attorney will ask for the trial to be delayed.

The Warrs showed up at the federal courthouse 35 minutes before their motion hearing started. They arrived hoping a federal magistrate would give their defense attorneys detailed information about the mail fraud counts filed against the couple.

The mail fraud charges are counts 13-16 in a 16 count indictment against the Warrs. Prosecutors say they're based on the more than $63,000 the Warrs received from the Lexington Insurance Company. The government contends that after Katrina tore through the Warrs beachfront home, the couple "misrepresented" the personal property losses and the extent of renovations and damage at the family's beachfront home.

Defense attorneys claim that in this case, there are five different insurance claim scenarios that the government can use to prove that. And unless they know which scenario the government will use, they can't properly build a mail fraud defense. Joe Sam Owen emphasized that point in court when he said, "I can't have intelligent dialogue unless I know what hemisphere I'm in."

Outside the courtroom, Owen told the media, "If it does lend itself to expert testimony, I can at least be able to tell the expert which scenario we're looking at."

Frank Trapp represents Mrs. Warr. He said in court that "it's fundamentally unfair" for the government to present a case without detailing the mail fraud specifics ahead of time. Trapp defended his stance by saying, "You're entitled to know what their position is."

Federal magistrate John Roper agreed. In ruling for the defense motion, he said, "A greater clarification is necessary in order for the defendants to understand the charges against them."

The Warrs walked out of the courthouse knowing that by next Friday, the government must give their attorneys its detailed mail fraud scenario. "We are pleased with the judge's decision," the mayor said. "But we won't make any further comments."

Right now, the trial is scheduled to start on April 6. However, that date may change. Joe Sam Owen will file a continuance motion in the next few days, hoping he can postpone the trial until he has more time to review the information he's about to receive from the prosecution. "My intent would be to ask for a continuance... for several months," said Owen.

If the delay is granted, Brent Warr's trial may not start until after Gulfport voters choose their next mayor.

"I don't know how that plays out with the mayor's race," the defense attorney said. "It's set in April. And we're just going to need more time."

As of February 19, Mayor Warr had not filed paperwork to run for re-election. The qualifying deadline is March 6. Warr has indicated that he'll be in the race.