November 24, 2020

Mississippi contractor charged $454K for ‘pile of dirt’ at church

A judge has ruled that a Mississippi contractor will have to pay restitution after accepting more than $450,000 to build a church sanctuary but doing little work.

Donald Crowther is owner of TCM Construction of Long Beach. In July, he pleaded guilty to fraud in the project at Second Baptist Church in Starkville.

During a hearing Thursday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, Judge Lee Coleman said Crowther must pay restitution, with an amount to be determined, the Commercial Dispatch reported. Sentencing is Nov. 2.

“They paid you $454,000 and all they have to show for it is a pile of dirt,” Assistant District Attorney Ben Rush told Crowther during the hearing.

Crowther was arrested in 2016. In pleading guilty, he admitted he had “prepared and submitted false invoices.”

Charles Ware, spokesman and adviser for Second Baptist Church trustees, asked Coleman to give Crowther the maximum of 10 years in prison. Trustees paid Crowther read from Crowther’s bank records in court.

The only part of the project completed was preliminary site preparation. The building permit expired in October 2017.

“How can you steal from a church, the bedrock of our community, the bedrock I grew up in?” Ware said.

Crowther asked the judge to sentence him to house arrest, as did his aunt, Jeanette Self. Crowther, 73, is the primary caretaker for his 95-year-old father, who has dementia, and his 40-year-old son, who has a disability, both Crowther and Self testified.

Coleman said Crowther should be able to make care arrangements for his father and son by Nov. 2.

The church has pursued multiple lawsuits over the incomplete project. Crowther’s attorney, Warren Conway of Gulfport, told The Dispatch after the hearing that it was “unfortunate” the church kept pursuing multiple cases and “trying to get paid three times.”