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SUN HERALD ARCHIVE: WARR GRANT PROBE CONTINUES

A federal investigation into whether Mayor Brent Warr broke the law when he received a grant to rebuild his home continues after more than a year.

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

Lee Youngblood, communications director for the MDA's disaster-recovery division, confirmed Tuesday that he and Jon Mabry, the division's chief operations officer, testified in front of a federal grand jury in Jackson last week.

The feds want to know whether Warr's damaged beachfront home was his primary residence.

To qualify for a homeowner grant of up to $150,000, an applicant had to prove they owned and lived in their home prior to Aug. 29, 2005. In addition, the applicant must prove the home was their primary residence through land deeds or personal bill statements.

On Tuesday, Warr confirmed he has hired prominent Gulfport attorney Joe Sam Owen to represent him in the case. Owen has represented clients in many high-profile cases, including Georgia-Pacific in dioxin litigation and Philip Morris in the tobacco cases during the 1990s.

Warr purchased the beachfront house from the Armed Forces Retirement Home in February 2003.

In February, Warr told the Sun Herald his family moved into another home while he slowly renovated the beach house himself. The Warrs were living in the other house at the time of the storm and in the process of moving into the beachfront home.

Although he declined to comment on his grand jury testimony, Youngblood said Warr's grant is "not unique."

Earlier this year Youngblood told the newspaper the state had awarded grants to homeowners who were in the process of moving into their homes when Katrina struck.

"If you're asking me if it's possible for someone to qualify for a homeowner's grant if they were in the process of moving into their home when the storm hit, the answer is yes, and there are cases like that," Youngblood said at the time. "The program didn't outright disqualify anyone just because they were moving."

In addition to the MDA officials, several city employees have been subpoenaed within the past 10 months. Investigators from Homeland Security's FEMA Fraud Unit sent a subpoena to the city's Water and Sewer Department in January, requesting billing records to Warr's beachfront home.

The feds requested building-permit records on construction done on the mayor's home from the city's Urban Development Department.

City Councilman Brian Carriere was called to testify earlier this year and a couple living across the street from the home Warr lived in while renovating his beachfront house told the newspaper they were visited by federal investigators.

Warr has said he welcomes the federal probe and that he, in fact, asked the "appropriate agencies" to review his file on the homeowner grant.

"I have cooperated with every agency involved with this inquiry and will continue to do so," Warr said.

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