Former East Spencer official set to report to prison

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

EAST SPENCER — A federal judge has granted former Alderman Chris Sharpe more time to begin serving a 21-month sentence for his role in a bribery scandal involving the town’s money.

Sharpe and fellow former town officials Kenneth Fox and Ronald Hash pleaded guilty to crimes connected to a scheme to take money from Winston-Salem businessman Rick G. Slade in return for awarding his companies lucrative town contracts from 2000 through 2001.

Fox and Slade have begun serving sentences at federal prisons, and Hash, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, received probation and continues to serve the town as a planning board member.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, Sharpe was to have reported to the federal prison in Ashland, Ky., on Jan. 4. The court granted a request to delay his imprisonment until March 4 at the earliest and no later than May 4.

Sharpe is trying to get disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and may need additional medical evaluations to support his claim, court papers say. Government attorneys consented to Sharpe’s request.

Sharpe remains employed as a nursing assistant at the Hefner VA Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Carol Walters said.

Concerning Sharpe’s criminal record, Walters forwarded a statement from Kathleen

Keith Oddo, an attorney with the Veterans Affairs Office of Regional Counsel, saying the agency is “responsible for providing a safe environment for its employees and the veterans we serve.

“It is the policy of the VA to hire and retain employees who will provide quality care and treatment for our veterans. If an employee or applicant has been convicted of a felony, the VA will determine, on an individual basis, whether the off-duty misconduct interferes with the VA’s mission of providing quality health care to our nation’s veterans,” the statement said.

Sharpe, Fox and Slade were sentenced in June.

Sharpe pleaded guilty in January 2005 to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud after taking more than $20,000 in payments from Slade, often through a shell company.

Fox, a former East Spencer mayor, was sentenced to 41 months and is serving that time at a medium-security federal prison in Bennettsville, S.C., about 70 miles from Myrtle Beach, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site. His projected release date is Nov. 5, 2009.

Federal officials said Fox and his wife, Kim, received more than $67,000 in payments to them or a shell company and that Slade also helped the couple fraudulently obtain a mortgage from a Charlotte lender.

In September 2005, Fox pleaded guilty to obtaining property through false pretense and a single count involving conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, federal program bribery, affecting commerce through extortion, use of mail to promote bribery and promoting money laundering

Slade, according to the Bureau of Prisons, is serving his 120-month sentence at a low-security prison in Elkton, Ohio, 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The agency projects his release date as Aug. 2, 2015.

Slade, 55, pleaded guilty in March 2005 to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, bribery and money laundering. The court denied his request for a delay in reporting to prison.

Hash pleaded guilty in June to a single count of making false statements to the Internal Revenue Service for not reporting $5,300 as income. He received three years probation. As part of his plea agreement, he had to resign from the Board of Aldermen, but town leaders subsequently appointed him to the Planning Board.

In exchange for Hash’s plea, the U.S. Attorney’s office dismissed five counts related to defrauding taxpayers and using his position as an alderman to influence votes in the company’s favor.

A 34-count indictment charged Slade and the former town officials with various crimes in conspiring to commit fraud, bribery and money laundering.

The scandal involved Business Partners USA and Resource Management Services. Slade owned the companies, which had contracts to take over East Spencer’s administrative duties, street maintenance and water-sewer service but brought the town to the brink of financial ruin.

Part of the money, authorities said, included federal funding meant for towns to maintain streets. The fraud also included Slade submitting bogus time sheets to payroll companies for work that was never done.

Sharpe, Fox and Slade have also been ordered to begin paying $1.5 million in restitution to the town of East Spencer and other victims in the case after their release from prison.

The court ordered Hash to pay a share of $70,232 in restitution in $50 monthly installments.

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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