When Aaron Broussard was a teenager, a popular pastime for guys was playing "chicken." The game was simple, if idiotic, enough: two guys would drive cars toward each other at high speeds and see which one chickened out at the last minute, thereby avoiding a head-on collision. A good rule of thumb was never play chicken against a guy driving a Sherman tank.
I don't know if Broussard ever played chicken as a teen, but he appears to be playing it now with federal prosecutors, who clearly are driving a Sherman tank.
Broussard appears to be driving a Yugo, but I'm not sure he realizes it.
Metaphors aside, little else explains Broussard's refusal to make a deal with the feds, who have him squarely in their sights. Federal prosecutors filed a second superseding indictment against him and his one-time parish attorney Tom Wilkinson on July 27, charging each with more than 20 felony counts. Broussard faces five additional counts of bribery.
The corruption charges against Broussard and Wilkinson include conspiracy, theft and fraud, many of them stemming from an alleged payroll fraud scheme involving Broussard's ex-wife, Karen Parker, who pleaded guilty to a single count in January.
Parker is expected to testify against Broussard and Wilkinson when they go to trial Oct. 1. In addition to Parker's testimony, there's a mile-long paper trail attesting to the fact that she wasn't anywhere near qualified for the paralegal supervisor job that Broussard, Wilkinson and an unnamed parish official concocted for her after Broussard won the parish presidency in 2003.
Also expected to testify are Broussard's former top aide, Tim Whitmer, who pleaded guilty to a single count of misprision of a felony in March, and Bill Mack, the owner of First Communications Co. in Kenner, who was Broussard's alleged briber. Mack pleaded not guilty last week to conspiracy to commit bribery, but he is expected to change his plea to guilty — possibly to a lesser charge in exchange for testimony against Broussard.
The latest round of charges alleges that Mack paid Broussard $66,000 over a period of nearly four years in exchange for $40,000 in parish contracts — and the inside track on a contract worth up to $200,000. The larger contract was never awarded, however. Broussard allegedly picked up some of the payments in person and tried to couch them as legal fees.
Whitmer and Mack apparently know enough about the alleged bribery scheme to put the hat on Broussard at trial. Whitmer, in fact, may know about additional schemes. As U.S. Attorney Jim Letten likes to say, this investigation is "ongoing."
One aspect of the investigation that's no longer "ongoing" is Broussard's attempt to have Letten's office disqualified from the case. U.S. District Judge Hayden Head brushed aside Broussard's claim that Letten's office showed personal bias and leaked secret grand jury information. The judge also denied Broussard's motion for a hearing on the matter, calling the proposed hearing "a fishing expedition" into the government's case.
Broussard's only plausible defense at this point seems to be that other politically connected figures in Jefferson Parish also participated in some form of payroll fraud as well but, for some reason, have not been indicted. That this is a case of selective prosecution is a given. Whether that gets Broussard and Wilkinson off the hook is a gamble — kinda like playing chicken.
With the trial less than two months away, the government's Sherman tank is bearing down on Broussard. If he doesn't chicken out by Oct. 1, he could face the same fate as Mark St. Pierre, the last guy who played chicken with the feds.