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SUN HERALD ARCHIVE: IN QUESTION

The Department of Homeland Security will question city officials in front of a federal grand jury next week on a homeowner grant awarded to Mayor Brent Warr, the Sun Herald has learned.

As first reported on sunherald.com, the city's finance chief, Mike Necaise, confirmed Thursday investigators from a Homeland Security fraud unit sent a subpoena to the city's Water and Sewer Department last week, requesting billing records to Warr's beachfront home.

City Councilman Brian Carriere has been subpoenaed. Carriere said he is expected to testify along with other city officials before a federal grand jury as early as next week regarding the mayor's beachfront house. No other council members who spoke to the newspaper said they had been subpoenaed.

Director of Urban Development Larry Jones told the newspaper the government requested building-permit records on construction done on the mayor's home.

"They have requested the file, they have requested everything we have on that house, yes," Jones said. "We've forwarded the file to (city attorney) Harry Hewes and he's taking it from here."

After Hurricane Katrina, Warr received a grant designed to help homeowners rebuild through the Mississippi Development Authority.

To qualify for up to $150,000 in state homeowner grant money, applicants must prove they owned and lived in their homes before Aug. 29, 2005.

In addition, applicants must prove the home is their primary residence through land deeds or personal bill statements.

In a Sun Herald story published Thursday, Warr said he asked the "appropriate agencies" to review his file on the homeowner grant he used to repair his beachfront house.

"I went through the process just like everyone else; I didn't approve myself," Warr said. "I went by the rules; anybody who wants to ask questions about it, I would welcome that."

Although the mayor said he spent many nights in the beach home, the Warrs had not yet moved in when Katrina struck, which has caused some to question whether the house could be considered a primary residence.

Warr said the government wants the water bills and building records from City Hall by the middle of next week.

"They asked for information having to do with the water bill and the building permits; that happened a week and a half, two weeks ago," he said. "But I've not heard of anything else having to do with the grand jury meeting, or talking to anyone else having anything to do with me."

Warr said the home is his primary address and his family was in the process of moving in when the storm struck.

MDA has said dozens of other homeowners who received grants were in a similar situation --- moving into a new house when the storm struck.

A city source told the newspaper several people close to the mayor --- outside City Hall --- also had been subpoenaed or had been questioned by federal investigators, including Roy Anderson III of Roy Anderson Construction.

When reached by cell phone in New York, Anderson said he had not received a subpoena, but he declined to say whether he had been questioned by the feds.

"I can't get into that," Anderson said.

Warr said he has not received a subpoena and has not been questioned by investigators.

The mayor said he has not hired an attorney, but admitted to speaking with "somebody who knows about it and given me advice, but I haven't done anything, officially."

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