Ex-college chief pleads innocent to diverting funds

September 23, 1994|By New York Times News Service

JACKSON, Miss. -- The former president of Mississippi College, a Southern Baptist institution founded in 1826, pleaded innocent in U.S. District Court yesterday to charges that he stole $1.7 million in college donations. The authorities said he used the money to buy stocks and to pay for prostitutes and lavish gifts.

Lewis Nobles, 68, stood silently as a magistrate read the 20-count indictment that included charges of money laundering and violations of the Mann Act, which bars the transportation of a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes."

The charges follow a yearlong investigation by the FBI, which entered the case after college officials filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nobles, accusing him of embezzling more than $3 million. That case is still pending.

The federal indictment accuses him of diverting donations for 17 years. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 165 years in prison and fines totaling $5.15 million.

Amy Whitten, Mr. Nobles' lawyer, denied the accusations against him. She said he had helped turn the small school "into a premier Southern Baptist liberal arts college."

Mr. Nobles took over as president in 1968, publicizing the 3,000-student college west of Jackson as a place where virtue was valued.

College officials started the action that led to the indictment when they entered his office and found $27,000 in cash in the summer of 1993, authorities said. The Clarion-Ledger reported that officials also found Polaroid pictures of scantily clad women and a bottle of strychnine in his briefcase.

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