Small victory for Richmond couple accused of bilking US Government

Small victory for Richmond couple accused of bilking US Government

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A minor victory for a Richmond couple accused of bilking the federal government out of hundreds of thousands in US stimulus money. The government shrunk its case against the pair - who pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday morning.

Morris and Chiroya Cephas are now only facing eight counts instead of 28. The new indictment ranges from conspiracy, to theft, false claims and lying to the government.

In 2010, the Cephases were awarded up to $500,000 in US Stimulus money to build an open loop biomass manufacturing plant that would create 50 new jobs.

There was a ground breaking held with top Richmond officials, but a few years later, an On Your Side investigation uncovered there was no plant.

In this new indictment filed Tuesday, the government alleges the Cephases "conspired to devise a scheme" to obtain money by defrauding the US department of Energy and the Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy.

The 17 page indictment alleges the couple told the government it was purchasing an excavator for $199,500. The government alleges the couple actually paid $110,000 for the excavator, $5,500 in sales tax and the rest went to pay for debt that had nothing to do with the bio mass project.

The government says the couple ended up using stimulus money to make rental payments for their house on Staples Trace Road and on a loan for land purchased back in 2005 for another company called Cephas Firewood.

The new indictment narrows the government's case and would reduce the sentence the Cephases face if convicted.

The changes are a result of the defendant's legal team arguing that some of the original charges were essentially repetitive.

The trial is set for March.

Copyright 2016 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved