Nagin is accused of accepting bribes from city contractors Frank Fradella, of Home Solutions of America and Home Solutions Restoration of Louisiana, and Rodney Williams, of Three Fold Constultants, who were recently convicted of bribing "Public Official A" — Nagin, as the federal government officially acknowledged today — in exchange for millions in city contracts. Nagin is also charged with receiving bribes from city contractors Mark St. Pierre and Aaron Bennett, both convicted of bribing other public officials, and a movie theater owner identified only as "Businessman A."
Fradella pleaded guilty to paying Nagin $50,000 in 2008 after his company had been awarded more than $4 million in construction work at Louis Armstrong International Airport and sidewalk repair in the French Quarter. Fradella allegedly funneled the money to Nagin through a trust fund controlled by Michael McGrath, then Home Solutions of America's chairman. Fradella also admitted to providing free granite inventory to Stone Age, LLC, a company owned by Nagin and his sons, Jeremy and Jarin.
(More after the jump)
The recent shakeups and breakups under U.S. Attorney Jim Letten amid an online comment controversy caught the eyes at The New Yorker, where Jack Hitt gives the blow-by-blow in "How Forensic Linguistics Identified Online Trolls in New Orleans." Just how exactly did investigators nail down NOLA.com commenters Henry L. Mencken1951 and eweman as Sal Perricone and Jan Mann?
Here's the (brief) saga of James Fitzgerald, "forensic linguistics" specialist and the FBI agent who helped link the Unabomber to Ted Kaczynski.
And a tip from Hitt: "Heloise-like tip to newbie trolls: don’t create an anonymous handle that includes the year of your own birth (Henry L. Mencken1951) or one that contains a homonym of your own name (eweman)."
The late Mayor Dutch Morial once told me, “In this game, it’s not your enemies you have to worry about. It’s your friends — they’ll do you in every time.” I thought of that as I watched U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resign. Letten, like so many others in public life — including, ironically, some that he prosecuted — was brought down by his friends.
Letten had a remarkable prosecutorial run. He put a lot of crooks in jail, and a few more appear on their way there.
His demise came at the hands of two of his most trusted deputies — former First Assistant Jan Mann and former trial supervisor Sal Perricone — who now face potential criminal exposure themselves for their inappropriate and unprofessional online rants. Ironically, Letten always gave his colleagues the credit for his office’s success.
Two of those colleagues paid him back by causing his downfall. Mann and Perricone’s online histrionics, coupled with Mann’s apparent mendacity in her handling of an in-house investigation into leaks and online postings (more irony), became too much for the DOJ to bear. Letten had to go, and he accepted his fate with his hallmark grit.
U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk today sentenced former New Orleans City Councilman Jon Johnson to six months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit theft of federal funds and submitting false documents to a federal department. Johnson pleaded guilty and resigned from his District E City Council seat in July.
Johnson faced a maximum five year penalty for routing nearly $80,000 in FEMA funds through two charities and into a campaign fund for his failed 2007 bid for the State Senate. Johnson was not a public servant at the time of his crimes. He also admitted to submitting false invoices to the Small Business Administration justifying a low interest loan for work done on his home to repair flood damage.
Pleading for leniency at today's hearing, Johnson asked Africk to take his family situation into account. Johnson, whose wife died in 2011, is the sole caretaker of his 8-year-old daughter.
"I stand before you this afternoon simply saying that I made a terrible mistake that I regret," he said. "I have an 8-year-old daughter that I've been caring for for the past year-and-a-half ... Please be lenient and please consider my personal circumstances with my daughter."
(More after the jump)
It’s often said that bad luck comes in threes; when two bad things happen, expect a third piece of bad news soon. If that old saw holds true, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten better brace himself, because federal target Fred Heebe appears far from finished with his campaign to discredit top prosecutors in Letten’s office.
Letten already had a major W-T-F moment last March, when Heebe exposed then-federal prosecutor Sal Perricone as the vituperative, vitriolic, verbose online commenter “HenryLMencken1951” on the Nola.com web site.
At the time of Perricone’s fall, many speculated that others in Letten’s office knew about Perricone’s anonymous rants — and maybe even joined in the cyber-fun. Now we know that it was much more than speculation.
On Nov. 2, Heebe filed a defamation lawsuit against Jan M. Mann, the No. 2 person in Letten’s office and his most trusted lieutenant. The suit alleges that Mann, like Perricone, posted venomous, anonymous rants on Nola.com — many of which, like Perricone’s histrionics, betrayed an inside knowledge of federal investigations. Mann’s alleged nom de plume was “eweman.”
Heebe’s suit claims that “eweman” and “HenryLMencken1951” often commented on the same stories, and sometimes within minutes of one another — an online tag team of sorts. Equally interesting, “eweman” stopped posting right after Perricone was exposed as Mencken.
On Thursday (Nov. 8), Letten issued a terse statement admitting only that Mann posted comments, not that she was “eweman,” and that she had been demoted. OPR is once again on the case.
Which brings us to the Rule of Threes: what else (or who else) is out there?
The latest rumor about former Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard is that he has decided to form a prison ministry in anticipation of his conviction on federal criminal charges. He faces several dozen felony counts, including conspiracy, fraud and bribery, among others.
Several of Broussard’s friends have told me they heard “prison ministry” talk from Broussard himself, so it’s more than just a rumor. Of course, most of those same friends also shake their heads when they tell that story. Some wonder if Broussard has lost his senses.
It’s not unusual for those who have found the Lord to be accused of insanity. Broussard’s well-documented penchant for showing his emotions publicly merely adds a measure of believability to such talk. After all, the other rumor — which I have heard from attorneys who I believe know a thing or two about this case — is that the feds offered Broussard a plea deal that would have let him off with probation … and he turned it down.
If that’s true, the presiding judge should appoint a sanity commission forthwith. After all, you don’t have to be an inmate to have a successful prison ministry. Just ask Sister Helen Prejean.
Meanwhile, Broussard’s last remaining co-defendant, former Jefferson Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson, proved this past week that he’s no loon. Wilkinson cut a deal to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit misprision of a felony. In return for his expected testimony against Broussard, the feds are dropping 22 more serious felony counts against him.
Now it happened that at this time Caesar Piyush issued a decree that vouchers should be made available to every undereducated child in the land. These vouchers — the first — issued while many public schools in Louisiana were failing, and so every prophet with an eye for profit went to enroll as many students as possible, each in his own parish.
They came from all corners of the state, to Baton Rouge, to apply for vouchers, so that their empty classrooms and their dwindling bank accounts might be fattened.
And they were not disappointed, for Piyush showered his faithful with vouchers like manna in the desert. No one knew whence these vouchers came, for they appeared as if in the night, and Piyush refused to answer any man who questioned his purposes or his decisions, and he commanded his voucher procurator, John, likewise to bear no inquiries.
Now at that time there arose in the Ninth Ward a prophet, named Lucas, who called himself The Apostle. He proclaimed that the Lord had spoken to him, telling him, “I bring you news of great joy. Today in the town of Baton Rouge there are thousands of taxpayer-funded vouchers available for you to enroll children in your shabby little school. Go forth and obtain your share, for they will lead you to the land of milk and honey.”
Lucas did as the Lord commanded him, and the Lord made smooth his path to obtain 80 vouchers from Piyush and John, though Lucas had requested more than twice that number. But Lucas saw that it was good. And prophetable.
“I am truly The Apostle,” he proclaimed. “Suffer your little children unto me, and I will make them whold.”
Former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard and former parish attorney Tom Wilkinson today pleaded not guilty to more than twenty federal charges including payroll fraud, theft of federal funds, conspiracy and, as of a second superseding indictment released by the U.S. Attorney's Office this week, bribery. Broussard, who has been receiving treatment for prostate cancer since March, revealed to federal Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy that he has recently been diagnosed with skin cancer.
Today marks the third time Broussard and Wilkinson pleaded not guilty before Stacy in an arraignment hearing, as the government's case has continued to evolve.
"This indictment's a bit different from the former indictment in that accusations have been added," Stacy said before reading out the charges.
(More after the jump)
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration says improvements are needed — some are already underway — at the Sewerage & Water Board, but there’s no reason to suspect malfeasance among current S&WB leadership.
Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux sent a letter to Landrieu July 31, recommending the S&WB not be trusted with administering money from proposed rate hikes. In his letter to Landrieu, Quatrevaux said the S&WB is
"the most likely of the City’s component entities to engage in fraud, waste, and abuse according to standard risk assessment technology."
The intent of the IG's letter is to develop legislation requiring intense scrutiny of the board’s money management — by the OIG or another entity — and/or to move the operation into City Hall where it would fall under the city’s procurement policies.
Quatrevaux pointed to problems in the S&WB pension plan that could make it unsustainable, waste and possible fraud in employee insurance programs and abuse of the take-home car program (one of every seven S&WB employees has a take-home car), and the conviction of former S&WB director Benjamin Edwards on charges he took kickbacks from S&WB contractors during the 20 years he headed the department.
In a statement emailed to Gambit, Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni says the mayor “will take a hard look at the Inspector General’s recommendations” but defended the current S&WB leadership.
The administration has been working with the S&WB to improve the deficient areas and improve overall operations, Berni says, and will continue to do so. However, the statement said,
"any suggestion of impropriety by the current executive director would be baseless. Marcia St. Martin has played by the rules and has been a dedicated public servant for over 40 years."
“ We have made significant progress in improving the operations and funding of the Sewerage and Water Board in our more than 2 years in office, but we must do more. It is clear to us that the S&WB currently does not have what it needs in terms of infrastructure and funding to serve a 21st century American city. It is the Mayor’s hope that with key reforms and improvements identified and outstanding questions answered within the next 60 days, we can find consensus on a pathway forward."
The S&WB has scheduled public meetings to disseminate information and receive input from ratepayers about increases of 14 percent for water service and 15 percent for sewerage every July through 2016. The board says the hikes are necessary because revenues have been lower than needed to operate, repair and update water, sewerage and drainage systems since the 1980s in most areas of the city. The mayor sent a letter to the board on July 17 asking it to find ways to lower the rate increases. He requested a reply within 60 days.
The fact that the S&WB needs a heavy influx of funds to repair and revamp the city’s antiquated system is not in dispute by Quatrevaux or the mayor’s office. “It is clear to us that the S&WB currently does not have what it needs in terms of infrastructure and funding to serve a 21st century American city,” Berni says. “It is the Mayor’s hope that with key reforms and improvements identified and outstanding questions answered within the next 60 days, we can find consensus on a pathway forward.”
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