At the height of his power and popularity, Aaron Broussard was the Edwin Edwards of Jefferson Parish. He had keen political skills, a finger on the pulse of his constituents and widespread support among the political establishment. He also had a knack — and a taste — for wheeling and dealing.
Like The Silver Zipper, that last attribute was his undoing. Both men ultimately were brought down by federal prosecutors for using their respective positions to enrich themselves. Edwards got 10 years for racketeering and bribery; Broussard last week drew 46 months for payroll fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery.
The two men differ, however, in several significant ways. For starters, I doubt that Broussard will return from prison as a doddering folk hero. Consider that further evidence that life isn't fair. While both men are scoundrels who deserve public scorn, Edwards inflicted far greater damage to Louisiana than Broussard visited upon Jefferson — yet the former governor gets the star treatment in some quarters. There will be no reality TV series for Broussard.
I say that not to evoke pity for the former Jefferson Parish president, for he deserves none. In some ways, he might even consider himself lucky. If, for example, Hurricane Katrina had flooded 80 percent of Jefferson (as it did New Orleans), he most certainly would not have been re-elected in 2007. Moreover, an enraged citizenry might well have demanded that the feds not allow him to plead to reduced charges.
That's another difference between Aaron and Edwin: Broussard had the good sense to cop a plea — eventually. Edwards, at the insistence of his half-wit co-defendant son, turned down a deal that would have let his progeny go free while requiring him to serve only two years in jail. Broussard held out for a while — reportedly declining a deal that would have given him probation — before cutting a deal that led to his sentence of 46 months. Under federal rules, he'll serve slightly more than 39 months if he behaves. He reports to prison April 8.
There's one last, very critical difference, between the two rogues: Whereas EWE was the big fish, Broussard is a middling catch. The feds' real target remains at large — River Birch landfill co-owner Fred Heebe, who (so far) has accounted for more government scalps than any man since Sitting Bull.
One would think that if the feds were trying to get Broussard to help them nab Heebe, they would have offered him a better deal — or no deal at all, depending on his willingness to assist them. At Broussard's sentencing last week, the feds made no mention of his potential cooperation. That would have been the appropriate time to say something, because a mention of cooperation often persuades a judge to go lighter on the defendant. The government's silence suggests that Broussard intends to do his time and keep his mouth shut. Even for a guy with prostate cancer, 39 months is not that long a stretch.
Meanwhile, Judge Hayden Head Jr. criticized not only the probation office's attempt to gin up Broussard's culpability but also the feds' case, saying, "I would think the government would have better things to do."
For his part, Broussard expressed remorse — something EWE never did. "I accept full responsibility for all the activities that I have pleaded guilty to," Broussard said. He also apologized to his former constituents "for bringing dishonor to my position. I will pay for that dishonor for the rest of my life."
Yes, he will — but if he knows about other crimes and remains silent, Broussard will continue to dishonor himself and the people he swore to serve.