HAMMOND | Jojuana Meeks, who was director of the Gary Urban Enterprise Association while more than a $1 million vanished, will spend almost six years in federal prison.
Meeks, 36, of Gary, told U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano on Tuesday she was sorry for the mistakes she made in stealing and allowing others to steal from the now-defunct, publicly funded Gary revitalization organization.
"I don't consider it a 'mistake.' That's greed," Lozano told Meeks. "It doesn't take a college graduate to know you can't go and take other people's goods, let alone poor people's."
Despite those comments, Meeks got about three years less prison time than she was eligible for because prosecutors asked for leniency in exchange for Meek's cooperation in a September trial against three other people accused of defrauding the GUEA.
"We believe Ms. Meeks' testimony assisted the jury in reaching the verdict" to convict Lake County Councilman Will Smith Jr., attorney Willie Harris and former tax collector Roosevelt Powell for hiding income from a fraudulent land sale to the GUEA, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Bell said.
Lozano ordered Meeks to turn herself in at a federal prison in the Chicago area after the holidays to begin her sentence of five years and 11 months.
Meeks was ordered to pay $1.16 million in restitution -- the estimated amount stolen -- to the Indiana attorney general's office, which is managing the assets of the former GUEA. She also owes $89,000 to the IRS for unpaid taxes.
Meeks shares the restitution with former GUEA Fiscal Manager Charmaine Pratchett, who is serving seven years and three months; former board member Derrick Earls, who was sentenced last week to a year in prison; and former board member Johnnie Wright, who is scheduled for sentencing this afternoon.
The four GUEA officials admitted to diverting more than $1 million from the nonprofit organization between 2000 and 2005. The thefts became possible after the group's board of directors ceased meeting or watching the books.
The federal investigation, which began after a Times expose in December 2004, found that hundreds of checks and credit card purchases essentially went into the pockets of GUEA officials.
Meeks' defenders said the high school graduate had been put into a job she did not have the experience for so that she could be manipulated by more powerful interests. Meeks has publicly threatened to reveal other names, but no new charges have been brought.
Bell would not comment on whether the GUEA case ends with Meeks. Her attorney, Adam Tavitas, said he's not aware of any other obligations that Meeks has to cooperate with prosecutors.