PHILADELPHIA -- A jury Wednesday convicted developer Ernest Edwards Jr. of stealing $140,000 in city funds earmarked for the rebuilding of 61 houses destroyed in the 1985 MOVE disaster, but acquitted him of other charges.
The mixed verdict, announced after six hours of deliberations, climaxed a weeklong trial in which prosecutors contended that Edwards and his former business partner 'systemically skimmed money and stole money' intended for the MOVE project.
City officials hailed the decision as a clear victory, while Edwards' attorney Hugh Clark said he was 'very disappointed' and planned to appeal.
'We thought it was a compromise verdict, and a verdict that didn't really indicate that the evidence as we presented it was properly understood,' Clark said.
Edwards was convicted of 13 counts of theft, three counts of misapplication of entrusted funds and a single count of perjury and false swearing. He was acquitted of four additional counts of theft and one count of conspiracy.
Edwards' former business partner, W. Oscar Harris Jr., of Atlantic City, N.J., was convicted of theft and misapplication of funds, but was acquitted on an additional theft count and a conspiracy charge.
Harris remarked afterward that the verdict left him 'a bit confused.'
'I was found not guilty of a conspiracy charge, and then I was found guilty of two other counts of theft, and that has me confused,' Harris said. He said he also planned to appeal.
Edwards faces a maximum penalty of 49 years imprisonment when he is sentenced June 15. Harris faces a maximum seven years in prison.
Laura Linton, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Ronald Castille, called the verdict 'appropriate.'
'It's absolutely a clear victory,' she said. 'We took everything we had to the jury, and the cases we thought were strongest all came through. We don't consider this a mixed verdict.'
Edwards and Harris were hired by the city to rebuild the 61 homes destroyed in a fire that erupted during the May 13, 1985, battle between police and the radical MOVE cult. Six MOVE members and five children died in the inferno.
Edwards, who was eventually fired from the reconstruction project amid allegations of mismanagement and waste, later was indicted by a Philadelphia County grand jury on charges he stole more than $200,000 earmarked for the reconstruction project.
Harris was accused of misusing $88,000 in city funds slated for the project.
Assistant District Attorney Janet Houser said both men 'systematically skimmed money and stole money' from construction start-up funds to pay off personal bills and old business debts and also to finance Edwards' $800-a-month Jaguar.
Edwards, during testimony last week, admitted he used city money to pay off old debts. However, he said, the bills were paid 'to make our company credit-worthy to mobilize (the MOVE) job.'