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Man sentenced to 16 months in beef plant case

OXFORD, Miss. – A Georgia businessman involved in a failed $55 million beef plant was sentenced Thursday to 16 months in prison after he pleaded guilty several months ago to illegally contributing to a former Mississippi governor’s campaign.

Robert Moultrie was chairman and chief executive of the Facility Group of Smyrna, Ga. The group managed construction of Mississippi Beef Processors LLC, a cattle plant that closed just three months after it opened in 2004, costing 400 jobs and sticking Mississippi taxpayers with $55 million in state-backed loans.

Faulty equipment and a lack of operating funds shut the 140,000 square-foot plant in Oakland in 2004.

Moultrie and others first raised $70,000 for former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

When it became clear there were issues with the plant, according to court documents, Moultrie and co-defendant Nixon Cawood Jr. talked about giving Musgrove another $25,000 to influence and reward him “should his assistance be needed on the potential problems with the project.”

Musgrove, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate this year, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Moultrie backed that up during his emotional 90-minute sentencing.

“Ronnie Musgrove never did anything wrong,” Moultrie told Judge Michael P. Mills.

Mills also fined Moultrie $30,000 and ordered him to report to federal prison by Jan. 20.

Moultrie requested to be placed at a facility in Montgomery, Ala., near his retirement home.

“If I had known it was a crime, I never would have done it,” he said.

Cawood will be sentenced next month. A third executive, Charles K. Morehead, was sentenced recently to 10 months in federal prison on charges he withheld information during the federal investigation.

Prosecutors recommended that Moultrie receive a sentence of less than 34 months in prison.

He faced up to 10 years.

Sean Carothers, who was president of Carothers Construction Co., which built the Mississippi Beef Processors Inc. plant, pleaded guilty in 2007 to paying kickbacks to the owner and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Richard Hall, a Tennessee businessman who owned the plant, is serving eight years for his role in the plant’s failure.

He admitted keeping $751,000 in public and corporate funds for himself.

Prosecutors said Carothers paid Hall a $173,000 kickback and helped him hide the money.

– The Associated Press