Jabari Edwards is asking a federal judge to dismiss asset forfeiture claims against his companies stemming from his June arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and false statements.
Edwards and his business partner, Antwann Richardson, were arrested in June on multiple charges related to the alleged misuse of more than $2 million in Paycheck Protection Program and Disaster Loan Program loans. economic. The loan programs aimed to maintain employment rates and help businesses recover from the difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FBI, along with other state and federal agencies, raided J5 headquarters in downtown Columbus on June 16.
On October 6, Columbus attorney Wilbur Colom filed a motion to dismiss the asset forfeiture on behalf of J5 GBL, J5 Solutions, Edwards Enterprises, The Bridge Group, BH Properties and Build Development Group, all companies owned by Edwards. The motion seeks to dismiss the forfeitures, not the charges against the businessmen.
As part of the federal indictment, bank accounts with Cadence Bank and Bank of Vernon linked to these companies were forfeited in addition to Court Square Tower and other real estate. Colom argues that, first, the “…trading accounts…have been frozen, hampering their business interests and survival” and, second, that the government cannot prove that questionable expenditures were in fact made with the money of the ready.
Investigators have alleged that Edwards and Richardson filed bogus applications for pandemic relief funding on behalf of North Atlantic Security in January 2021, but the company was sold to American Sentry Security Services in March 2021. money they obtained on behalf of NAS would have been used for personal gain. real estate transactions, including the purchase of Court Square Tower, political contributions, charitable donations, vehicle purchases and lump sum payments to friends, family and other businesses.
The defendants’ argument
Colom argues that J5 Solutions’ sole function was to make payments on behalf of all businesses under the J5 umbrella, “…which were and are housed in a single building and share a number of common employees “.
Payments that the government says were made unfairly with loan funds were actually made with money from other sources, Colom claims.
The indictment claims that “…on June 10, 2021, $48,000 was transferred from Solutions to (Edwards’) personal account,” Colom writes. “…The day before this transaction…Greenfield Environmental Multistate Trust wired J5 GBL payment for work performed in the amount of $109,394.” Greenfield is responsible for cleaning up the Kerr McGee Superfund site in Columbus, and various Edward-related companies have been awarded related contracts.
Similarly, the indictment alleges that on July 9, 2021, J5 GBL transferred $125,000 to The Bridge Group. Colom argues that the bank statements “clearly show that on July 7, 2021, J5 GBL received a payment from The Trust for $434,675”.
Colom argues that in neither case has the government shown that the money involved was loaned money. He also argues that other transfers mentioned in the indictment were “normal business transactions” and not illegal, and that the checks addressed to Richardson, Shanta Blakney, Sophia Erby and Jewel Edwards were bonuses.
“The United States has made no allegation that any of the transfers to sister companies were unrelated to business or even ineligible under the terms of the notes” to the Small Business Administration, Colom wrote. “When it comes to year-end bonuses, awarding bonuses is ordinary business practice.” Checks referenced to family and friends had “I love you” written in the note line according to the indictment.
Throughout his motion, Colom argues that the laws governing how PPP and EIDL money could be spent are vague.
“At no point in the memo does it impose specific restrictions on the use of loan funds,” Colom writes. “The only restriction is that it must be used for commercial purposes.”
Court Square Tower
In the indictment, the government alleges that the January 2021 purchase of Court Square Tower for $1.2 million was improper.
The building, located at 605 Second Avenue North, was seized as part of the indictment.
The property was previously owned by Court Square Tower LLC, a company controlled by Colom himself, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website. Court Square Tower LLC was listed as dissolved in 2017, but it owner-financed the sale of the property to a company owned by Edwards, according to documents included in Colom’s petition. The final lump sum payment for the purchase is due from Edward’s company to Colom’s company on December 31.
“…the use of EIDL funds to purchase the Court Square Tower is certainly business-related,” Colom asserts. “What’s illegal about doing that?” Nothing, because companies buy buildings in the United States on a daily basis.
Colom also posted bond on June 16 for Edwards and Richardson on behalf of Jewel Edwards.
Edwards and Richardson also got a second extension. The trial was originally set for July 25, but was postponed to November 14. Edwards’ attorney, Donna Smith, has twice called for the case to proceed due to the time it takes to prepare for trial, including reviewing more than 10,000 discovery pages.
Smith is also a public defender, and one of the court warrants when she is due in Lowndes County Court is in November.
The trial is scheduled for January 23, 2023 at the Federal Courthouse in Oxford.
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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