MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Four defendants appeared one by one Thursday in Mobile County Circuit Court to plead not guilty to charges stemming from a year-old investigation into corruption allegations involving the Prichard water system.
An indictment handed up in November charges Nia Malika Bradley with aggravated theft by deception, alleging that she purchased more than $200,000 worth of personal items with a credit card issued by the Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board while she was the system’s operations manager.
Two people who worked under her at the time, Randy Dewarick Burden and Teresa Evett Lewis, face similar allegations. The fourth defendant is Bradley’s husband, Anthony Bradley. He is charged with receiving stolen property and two counts of fraudulent use of a credit card.
Mobile County District Attorney Keith Blackwood said the charges incurred by the water system hurt a utility that already was battling financial problems and aging pipes and equipment.
“My heart certainly goes out to people of Prichard that are victims of this conduct,” he said. “You know, in the economy that we’re in right now, you know, prices are going up. And, you know, high water bills certainly don’t help with that. We’re gonna do everything that we can here to bring the people responsible to justice.”
The aggravated theft by deception charge is a relatively new offense in Alabama and requires prosecutors to prove that the defendants stole more than $200,000 through unauthorized purchases.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time it’s a relatively new statute,” Blackwood told reporters. “It’s for, you know, much larger amounts of money than what we’ve had in the past.”
The investigation burst into public view in February when federal and local law enforcement authorities raided the water board headquarters in Prichard hours before the board was scheduled to hold a meeting. Agents spent hours at the office, hauling out boxes of materials and computer equipment. Within days, the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office executed a search warrant at Bradley’s home in west Mobile, removing boxes of shoes, clothing, electronics and other items.
Court records indicate that Bradley charged expenses ranging from airline tickets to hotel rooms and items from high-end retailers like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
The defense position has not changed in this case. Jason Darley, who represents Nia Bradley, reiterated the same argument he has made multiple times since her arrest in February.
“We maintain that she was authorized,” he said. “We have in writing that she was authorized. And as a result, I mean, you know, whether there’s validity in that, I mean there’s authorization from her superiors.”
Anthony Bradley’s attorney, Gordon Armstrong, said prosecutors have yet to produce any evidence that his client did anything wrong.
“He’s married to somebody who’s been accused of something,” he said. “And he’s kind of gotten sucked into it because he’s married to her. Basically, the theory, as I understand it, is well, he must have known something because they’re married and he lives there. That’s it. … Again, it’s kind of the spillover what they’re accusing her of.”
With Thursday’s arraignment, the defense lawyers said they will get their first real look at the evidence.
Mobile County Circuit Judge Michael Windom set a status conference for May 4. That will be an opportunity for the lawyer to negotiate possible plea bargains.
“I don’t see Mr. Bradley being interested in settling,” Armstrong said.
Darley also pointed to the parallel federal investigation, which so far has not resulted in criminal charges.
“There’s the federal component of the investigation that that affects everything,” he said.
Armstrong has been critical of the way the District Attorney’s Office carried out the search of his client’s home.
“If you look at the inventory return, there are things they took that belong to their family members, their grandparents that were family hand-me-downs that they took,” he said. “So they definitely overstepped.”
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