A federal grand jury has indicted more than two dozen people in the Panhandle accused of illegally pocketing drought assistance money.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is leading the ongoing investigation into an alleged kickback scheme, involving 29 people, including nine former government employees.
“We shall continue to pursue, prosecute and punish corrupt public officials who threaten our way of life and our system of government by abusing their official power,” said Lawrence Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the district, at a press conference on Friday announcing the indictment.
Prosecutors say Duane Crawson, 43, of Bonifay, used his position as executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Program to submit assistance claims on behalf of co-conspirators for property they didn’t own or lease in Washington and Holmes Counties.
“As a result, those government payments were deposited into the respective bank accounts of the identified co-conspirators,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Coody, the investigation’s lead prosecutor. “Crawson then in turn received cash kickbacks from the Crawson conspirators with the illegal taxpayer funds that were the substance of the proceeds.”
In 2017, the defendants allegedly obtained roughly $373,483 from the USDA’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which provides payments to farmers who've had grazing losses due to a severe drought.
“These disaster assistance programs are built on honesty and fair-dealing,” Coody said. “Those who would seek to defraud the American taxpayer of these necessary funds for nothing more than graft and greed will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Internal Revenue Service and the USDA’s Office of Inspector General assisted in the investigation leading to the indictment.
Each defendant could face up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and up to 10 years for theft of government funds.
The alleged co-conspirators listed in the indictment include:
• Jeremiah Joe Rolling, 43, of Westville, Florida; Investigator – Office of the State Public Defender
• Jordan Ryan Hicks, 36, of Ponce De Leon, Florida; Former Florida Department of Corrections Officer
• Davey Eugene Mancill, 44, of Westville, Florida; Mancill Masonry, LLC
• James Stacey Paul, 46, of Bonifay, Florida; Public Works - City of Bonifay, Florida
• Kyle Martin Hudson, 39, of Westville, Florida; Former Holmes County Clerk of Court
• Christopher Marion Ammons, 31, of Ponce De Leon, Florida; Heavy Equipment Operator
• Danyel Michelle Witt, 44, of Bonifay, Florida; Clerk – United States Postal Service
• Sheryl Day Gillman, 52, of Bonifay, Florida; Secretary - Florida Farm Bureau
• Shyloe Rose Sachse, 40, of Bonifay, Florida; Former Corrections Officer
• Tillman Douglas Mears, 30, of Bonifay, Florida; Public Works - City of Bonifay, Florida
• Dawn Marie Crutchfield, 48, of Bonifay, Florida; Medical Assitant
• Justin Mikel Chopelas, 21, of Fayetteville, North Carolina; Construction
• Ronald Ryan Roof, 23, of Westville, Florida; Specialist – Army National Guard
• Megan Leann Roof, 22, of Caryville, Florida; Hotel Clerk
• Billy Coal Bradshaw, 35, of Bonifay, Florida; Auto Parts Employee
• James Erwin Mancill, 48, of Bonifay, Florida; Auto Parts Employee
• Joseph Matthew Crowder, 47, of Caryville, Florida; Brick Mason – Mancill Masonry, LLC
• Audrey Lynn Smith, 32, of Caryville, Florida; Convenience Store Clerk
• Brian Anthony Ammons, 44, of Ponce De Leon, Florida; Heavy Equipment Operator
• Taylor Ward Stripling, 28, of Westville, Florida; Farm Laborer
• Dawn Marie Roof, 44, of Chipley, Florida; Licensed Practical Nurse
• Daniel Olajuwon Boston, 33, of Chipley, Florida; Brick Mason – Mancill Masonry, LLC
• Chassity Lynn Lee, 31, of Bonifay, Florida; Auto Parts Employee
• Jennifer Marie McCabe, 30, of Bonifay, Florida; Holmes County Council on Aging
• Justina Rae Williams, 30, of Caryville, Florida; Unemployed
• Joseph Bailey Alexander, 22, of Chipley, Florida; Poker Dealer
• Douglas Edward Mixon, 60, of Westville, Florida; Farmer
• Dwayne Frazier White, 49, of Bonifay, Florida Former City of Bonifay Police Officer