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Friday, January 20, 2012

Jefferson Parish bombshells

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 11:45 AM

When the feds indicted former Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard, former parish attorney Tom Wilkinson and Broussard’s ex-wife Karen Parker for payroll fraud on Dec. 2, some courthouse observers wondered if that was all that the government had against Broussard.

Wonder no more.

With Parker’s guilty plea last week to a single count of misprision (failure to report a felony), followed quickly by a single count of misprision against former parish administrator (and top Broussard aide) Tim Whitmer, federal investigators signaled that there’s a whole lot more to come.

Meanwhile, Whitmer and the former Mrs. Broussard are cooperating with the feds against Broussard and probably River Birch landfill co-owner Fred Heebe.

That should make Broussard, Wilkinson, Heebe and a lot of others in Jefferson politics very uncomfortable.

The “factual basis” signed by Parker when she pleaded guilty states that Broussard “met with at least two Jefferson Parish officials” in late 2003 to discuss her employment status. The upshot was that Parker went on the payroll as a “paralegal supervisor” even though she had no training or qualifications for that job. The move allowed her to make a lot more money than she otherwise would have earned. Five months later — in May 2004 — she and Broussard were married.

What’s interesting is that the document references “at least two other Jefferson Parish officials.” Assuming Wilkinson was one of them, who were the others? The bill of information against Whitmer all but says he was there, and my sources say then-parish president Tim Coulon was as well. That makes sense. Coulon was then the outgoing parish president; he had to approve the deal to put Parker on the payroll as a paralegal supervisor before Broussard took office — or Broussard would face a nepotism scandal.

The feds dropped several other bombshells in Parker’s factual basis and Whitmer’s bill of information. For example, Parker’s statement notes that Broussard “received monies, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, that were characterized as, among other things, ‘retainers,’ ‘consulting fees’ or ‘finder’s fees’ with various contractors and vendors” while he was parish president. The document also references Broussard’s “investment property” in Canada, which parish contractors and vendors helped him finance. Even scarier for Broussard, Parker’s proffer of evidence states that it is “not intended to constitute a complete statement of all facts known by Parker and described by Parker to the government … .”

Then, in Whitmer’s bill of information, the feds noted that the crimes Whitmer knew about but failed to report include “wire fraud, theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, and other federal criminal violations.” The feds specifically allege that Whitmer participated in a payroll fraud scheme (Parker’s, no doubt) and unspecified but clearly corrupt “contract selection processes.”

Cue the sound of explosions.

So what’s next?

Possibly a plea by Wilkinson. If he doesn’t cut a deal, he’s a fool.

Look for some parish contractors to start talking, too. For each, it comes down to this question from the feds: Are you the victim of a shakedown … or a co-conspirator with Broussard? It’s not a trick question.

At a minimum, Broussard is looking at most if not all participants in the payroll fraud scheme testifying against him, which means he has to decide if he wants to stand trial on those and potentially other charges — and then go to jail for the rest of his life — or join the chorus against Heebe, the ultimate target?

As the feds close in on Heebe, look for a lot of folks around him — and possibly throughout parish politics — to get dragged into the unfolding investigation.

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