Exclusive: Docs show hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars spent to sanitize Jackson buildings with little oversight

WLBT investigation reveals no contract with Florence firm that allegedly performed work, more than $280k unaccounted for
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:13 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - For the first time, invoices from the city of Jackson reveal how a Florence company claimed to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic, all under the guise of keeping city employees healthy.

WLBT obtained more than a hundred invoices for work allegedly done by L&N Enterprises, LLC.

Their job, as defined by those records of payment: spray and disinfect city buildings to help cut down on the spread of COVID-19.

What the invoices show, however, raises more questions.

The city paid the company $21,600 to clean areas of the Jackson Zoo over six months.

Some of those disinfection visits happened every week.

The biggest payouts include a deep cleaning and COVID spray throughout Thalia Mara Hall on August 4, 2020, costing $22,896.

Five days later, L&N Enterprises issued an invoice charging the same amount for cleaning the same building again, exactly as before.

3 On Your Side showed City Council President Ashby Foote those invoices, and he outlined several red flags.

“I didn’t realize there were two different bills that close together. There’s others where there’s $18,000, an even $18,000,” Foote said. “It’s not clear how they came up with the $18,000. It’s just a general explanation. No metric as to this many hours per work. There’s no clear understanding from the invoices of what all the work was that was going to be done, what it involves.”

Some records don’t even show which specific buildings were serviced.

From February to April of 2021, L&N Enterprises got paid $18,000 each week to disinfect 14 locations around the city.

That’s as specific as it gets.

Those payments alone add up to nearly $200,000.

Date issuedDescriptionAmount per date
04/05/21, 04/07/21Pre-COVID disinfecting spray of voting precincts$27,500
08/04/20, 08/09/20Deep clean/COVID spray disinfect Thalia Mara Hall$22,896.30
07/15/20Infectious deep clean-COVID spray Jackson Police Academy$18,500
Eleven different occasionsWeekly COVID spray disinfecting for 14 locations$18,000
07/07/20Infectious deep clean-COVID spray water maintenance & distribution, labor room, offices and vehicles at Michael Avalon$18,000

WLBT actually asked for these documents 21 months ago, when we first investigated this company, but the city denied our request, saying the company was under investigation.

Around the same time, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba fired then-Constituent Services Manager Keyshia Sanders and held a press conference with Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, announcing they would get to the bottom of any misappropriated funds.

The only link found between Sanders and L&N Enterprises: her name beside the agenda item that approved money for it, meaning she pushed those items through.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said Sanders didn’t have the authority to put an item on the agenda for the city council.

“I asked that, and they said she was a department head. Then they say she’s not a department head,” Stokes said. “The man who’s out here in the community making sure the grass is cut, he can’t put an item on the city council agenda talking about ‘why I can’t get more money’ or talking about ‘I need a new lawnmower.’ So if regular employees can’t put items on the agenda, how could Keyshia Sanders have that authority?”

Sanders’ name wasn’t the only one on those items.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was listed there, too, even though he told us he had never heard of L&N Enterprises until he launched an investigation into the company.

City spokesperson Melissa Faith Payne said any items submitted from Sanders would have had the mayor’s name on them because her department falls under the mayor and Lumumba’s assistance was needed.

Twenty-one months later, neither the city nor JPD, nor even the State Auditor’s office, have produced anything for the DA to bring before a jury concerning this COVID money.

Stokes said he’s asked repeatedly during council meetings – even putting the item on the agenda – to ask about Sanders and the case.

But Lumumba had no problem talking about it to reporters just days ago, divulging something his office had never revealed before: the city’s investigation into Sanders led to a federal charge against her for misappropriating money in a separate case.

“We are the ones that not only looked into that money, but also interviewed that former employee in order to talk to her about the money that was missing. We contacted the district attorney, we contacted the state auditor, and we brought it to the city council’s attention,” Lumumba said. “She was later prosecuted, and I believe that that case is resolved. And that case was only built on the information that we uncovered.”

Court documents show Sanders was put in charge of a grant for artists of color worth $1.2 million, but at some point she took some of that money for herself as payment for administering the grant.

Foote wonders why Sanders was even given those tasks in the first place.

“Why was the person who’s supposed to answer to constituents about different issues they have, with day to day, you know, circumstances in the city? Why was she given the responsibility to take care of millions of dollars and invoices to the COVID Relief Program?” Foote said. “Who was the person overseeing Miss Sanders? And what were their duties to make sure that this was... that she was held accountable, and she was doing her job correctly?”

Lumumba had previously told the council that his chief of staff, Safiya Omari, oversaw Sanders.

Nobody else was ever named in connection to the COVID investigation, even though Sanders herself should not have had the power to get that money approved without the administration’s help.

“Unfortunately, what had happened in that circumstance is that she had a direct line, which should not have been permitted in order to accounts payable,” Lumumba said. “And so there are supposed to be guards there. And so that’s why we had more questions as to how that was able to happen.”

Lumumba said his office investigated the matter to try and figure out how that direct line was even possible, but did not disclose what his office found.

“Yes, there was a failure there. But the question is, because it’s an IT matter, right. The question is, how was that work around, able to take place? Whether it was an oversight, and it was an exploited oversight, or whether there was some other efforts there? We don’t know. But we are not in the business of investigation,” Lumumba said. “We’re in the business of recognizing where there’s a problem, doing our best to gather data and turning it over to those individuals who are best suited for that.”

WLBT asked Lumumba if he, Omari or any other members of his staff saw those invoices before they were approved.

“Without question, no, and that is why we turned them in. Without question. In fact, what was able to be presented in order for that case to go forward is information that verifies that,” Lumumba said.

Stokes believes Sanders didn’t act alone.

“I feel that she was one of many. And she knows a lot. I feel if someone would come and prosecute her and offer her a good deal to tell us, we can get to the [bottom of it],” Stokes said. “She knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak. She needs to tell everything she knows.”

Some of what she knows may already be in the hands of federal investigators.

This month, she pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and will be sentenced in the coming days.

It’s not clear who else might have been involved there, either.

“Clearly there’s some missing links in the chain of command within the mayor’s organization that have allowed this kind of stuff to go on and now be, you know, unknown for, you know, over a year, and it just undermines the confidence in city government,” Foote said.

WLBT also asked for contracts, bids and quotes associated with L&N Enterprises.

The city said there were no responsive documents except the invoices, meaning no contract exists.

“There was no contract? I mean, that’s not good, good either,” Foote said. “That whole thing is, is sort of slapdash, sort of a hodgepodge. And this is really unfortunate for the city. If we don’t get reimbursed for this one point, whatever million it is, then shame on us for not putting the orders in place and the structure in place to make sure that we’re good stewards of the citizens money.”

Some of that money may still be unaccounted for, too.

Our 2021 investigation showed the council approved more than a million dollars over 10 months, but the invoices the city sent only account for $807,000, leaving no record of more than $280,000.

City Attorney Catoria Martin told WLBT late Thursday that she would be following up with the city’s chief financial officer, Fidelis Malembecka, to try and identify whether there were any other invoices the city failed to provide, which could account for the missing money.

“Clearly anyone who can count realizes that over $200,000 is missing. Now, money just can’t walk away, it’s not going to grow legs and just say, ‘well, I’m gonna walk away somewhere else.’ There’s stealing taking place at City Hall,” Stokes said.

Attempts to reach Robert Lingold, the attorney for L&N Enterprises LLC, were not successful.

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