Two plead guilty in Chowchilla Elementary School District mail fraud case

FRESNO -- Two men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud charges in Fresno federal court Monday, in a 1998 case involving Chowchilla Elementary School District.

Gregory Paul Styles, 45, of Lemoore, and Marvin Mitchell Freeman, 58, of Selma, face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for masterminding a scheme to defraud the district, according to Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Eastern District of California.

The FBI and the Chowchilla Police Department investigated the case, and the defendants have each agreed to pay back $40,000 taken as a result of the scheme.

Back in 1998, Styles was employed as a management system information director for the district, according to court documents. At that time, a federal program known as E-Rate was available to help schools obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.

It was designed so the neediest schools would receive the most financial help. School districts were required to fund a percentage of the cost of the equipment and services. As a district employee, Styles was ineligible to bid for the project or to receive funds from the E-Rate Program.

In order to circumvent these rules, the pair developed a scheme whereby Freeman would submit a bid during the competitive bidding process to provide equipment and services to be paid for under the E-Rate Program.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 24 at 8:45 a.m. The defendants, in addition to five years in prison, may also have to pay a $250,000 fine. Horwood said it took more than 10 years for the case to reach a resolution, partially because attorneys were awaiting the outcome of a related federal Supreme Court case.

-- Sun-Star Staff