Public outrage on display Part 1: Some thoughts on the Broussard sentencing.
A day has elapsed since yesterday’s sentencing hearing for Karen Parker, Tom Wilkinson and Aaron Broussard in Judge Head’s temporary courtroom on Camp Street and the accounting by the media of yesterday’s events is almost complete, “almost” being because I have not chipped in my two cents worth. First up I need to highlight Jason at American Zombie, Editilla at the Ladder and Mark Moseley aka Oyster over at Your Right Hand Thief for the hat tips and support. There are people taking real personal risks telling this story besides me and they deserve the recognition. To those guys I’ll add I have sources whose families have been threatened because word has gotten out they spoke with me. I can honestly say I’ve never been prouder of those of you that have entered the crucible with me despite the personal risk telling this story entails.
Next I need to point everyone to Drew Broach’s second story on the Broussard sentencing because it is good and he can actually spell sophomoric correctly. He hits all the high points save one so I’ll highlight how the media portrayed what I am talking about and hopefully convey a deeper understanding of what went down yesterday so let’s start with this snippet from Drew’s story:
Head said he considered a series of regular payments from Kenner businessman Bill Mack to Broussard as a single bribe for parish business, not several. And he downplayed Broussard’s “leadership role” in the payroll fraud conspiracy that gave the parish president’s then-fiancée, Karen Parker, a public job for which she was not qualified and at which she rarely worked.
As a result, the judge calculated the sentencing guidelines range to be 46 to 57 months.
And a few of the other media accounts:
Broussard faced a maximum of 15 years for the crimes, a sentence likely cut down because of his clean criminal record and his cooperation. Head, a Texas judge appointed to the Broussard case, further reduced the sentence, citing a number of disagreements with recommendations from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the federal probation office.
The government recommended sentence enhancements for accepting multiple bribes from Mack. But, Head pointed out, those bribes resulted from a single agreement.
“A bribe paid in a series of installments is one bribe,” he said.
Head also struck down an enhancement based on an assertion that he was the organizer of a bribery conspiracy involving five or more people. The deal, the judge said, was strictly between Broussard and Mack.
Broussard originally faced 58 to 72 months behind bars, but U.S. District Judge Hayden Head reduced the sentencing guidelines and only ended up giving Broussard 46 months. In court, Judge Head, brought in from Texas, disagreed with prosecutors on how some of the charges were counted, thus deciding to change the sentencing guidelines.
Legal expects (sic) expected Broussard to receive a sentence in the five to eight year range. The Texas judge handling Broussard’s sentencing said prosecutors had double counted his bribe payments.
Judge Hayden Head also appeared to downplay the hiring of Broussard ex-wife Karen Parker as a paralegal supervisor even though she lacked the proper credentials to do the work.
He said from the bench: “This was not a sophisticated operation. It must be common procedure to put people on the payroll.”
The apparent light sentence caught many court-watchers by surprise, given the nature of the public corruption charges.
“He gave a lecture to the U.S. Attorneys Office, to the probation department and he calculated the sentencing guidelines differently than the probation office had calculated them and that worked to the benefit of Aaron Broussard,” said Eyewitness News legal analyst Donald “Chick” Foret. “He was not impressed with the payroll portion of the case which dealt with Tom Wilkinson and Karen Parker. It was almost like he was trying to talk Tom Wilkinson out of his guilty plea at times.”
Drew Broach got it the closest while the Gambit oversimplified things to the point of being misleading. I did not expect much from the TeeVee media though Chick Foret’s analysis always seems both informative and amusing.
First we need to dispel the notion that Judge Head gave a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines because that is simply not true. As I previously said in comments Judge Head called the case straight so in my opinion the criticism he is taking in comments to the various news accounts is neither warranted or deserved. Second Slabbed’s legal experts had no preconceived expectations of Broussard’s sentence though I’ll add NOLA Born, a former Federal prosecutor has opined the sentence handed down is in line with the crime and fact pattern as submitted to Judge Head.
What the Judge rejected were two enhancements to Broussard’s sentence included by the probation and parole folks because they were not properly applied, 6 levels in total. Drew covered the first issue in his report involving the Bill Mack bribery scheme. Worth noting is the fact that prosecutors contended Broussard promoted Mack’s business to others doing business with the Parish, thus they contended the Mack bribery scheme included more than 5 people. To lend color to the assertions raised by the prosecutors, Broussard promoting businesses to his cronies have been well documented on these pages via documents I obtained via public records requests last summer. (Examples here, here and here.) There is no denying the facts behind the prosecutor’s assertions IMHO, it is just that the assertions relate to potential crimes which Broussard was not charged.
Additionally the multiple bribe enhancement, 4 of the 6 level enhancement was based upon multiple acts of bribery and Drew correctly pointed out the prosecutors alleged Mack’s multiple payments to Broussard constituted multiple bribes, an assertion which Judge Head rejected because the former Goatherder in Chief only plead guilty to one count of bribery involving Mack. Surely the people that cut this deal with Broussard knew what they were doing which is why everyone senses there is a pig in the poke at play. Let’s circle that for now.
But the multiple payments to Mack was not the only instance of bribery the prosecutors cited in the pre sentencing report on Broussard as the name “Nova Scotia Enterprises” was also mentioned in the report according to Judge Head and federal prosecutors as another instance of bribery. That name has also been mentioned on Slabbed and this particular post has been included in Danny Abel’s defamation suit against me and Anne Marie Vandenweghe filed last month in the LAED. (All previous Slabbed archival post on the topic can be found here.)
The bottom line is Broussard’s former partner in the legal department of the Super 8 Motel on Clearview Parkway, Danny Abel and Abel’s partners at Trout Point Lodge Charles Leary and Vaughn Perret used affidavits filed by Nova Scotia Enterprises owners such as the late Roy D’Aquila in an attempt to establish damages in their SLAPP suit against Fox 8 filed in Nova Scotia. Federal prosecutors later clearly stated in court filings Nova Scotia Enterprises was a vehicle to bribe Aaron Broussard. To the extent Broussard’s business agents in Canada claimed their business somehow was damaged as a result of the Fox 8 reporting on Broussard’s curious connections to the Lodge in a Canadian defamation suit months before the allegations surfaced in USA v Broussard, the fact they used affidavits from Nova Scotia Enterprises owners in Canada as evidence in support of their legal position is telling. Even more telling is shortly after Slabbed began publishing those sworn affidavits, Charles Leary and Vaughn Perret settled their case against Fox 8 in exchange for a partial retraction. Today in recent court filings both Leary and Perret now claim they now know little to nothing about Nova Scotia Enterprises.
Judge Head mentioned, in shooting down the prosecutors use of that scheme to merit a sentencing enhancement for Broussard that the Nova Scotia Bribery scheme sounded like a legitimate avenue for investigative inquiry and in my opinion it certainly is and this brings me to the pig in the poke part because federal prosecutors have not exhibited any appetite for tackling that bribery scheme or any of the many documented illegal acts that occurred during Broussard’s political career. Worth pointing out is the existence of other bribery schemes that have never seen the light of day outside of the US Attorney’s office that I found out about from one of the victims of one of the schemes. The public intuitively knows Broussard lived a life of crime thus the anger at the relative slap on the wrist he received. That anger is certainly misplaced when directed at Judge Head but the emotion itself involving being snookered by Jim Letten’s office and their specious deal making activities is not.
In the Bill Hubbard case, four vendors doing business with St John the Baptist Parish were said to have bribed Hubbard but only one of those vendors along with Hubbard were called to account by Department of Justice leaving three free to bribe the next guy. In Jefferson Parish we have prosecutors unveil a massive bribery scheme involving Nova Scotia Enterprises with no one including Broussard being called to account. Then again Operation Wrinkled Robe into 24th JDC Courthouse corruption lasted almost a decade yet only two Judges were prosecuted, one with a major assist from a private lawyer that was home cooked in that courthouse. The identity of that lawyer who had the courage to stand up in the face of a major criminal conspiracy can be found on the right side bar of this blog. At the end of the day one of the most expensive criminal investigations in US history stopped way short thanks to a US Attorney staffed by primadonnas that seemed more concerned fighting their interoffice battles on the internet than nailing the bad guys.
The bottom line is Broussard got exactly the sentence the deal he cut with prosecutors called for, so if it isn’t the Judge’s fault where does the blame lie? In my mind with the people that cut these deals at Team Letten. And the failure to prosecute the players behind the bribery scheme involving Nova Scotia Enterprises? We’ve heard the term “too big to fail” many times as applied to the corrupt Wall Street Investment bankers that imploded the economy last decade and worth noting is not a single instance of the massive fraud on Wall Street was prosecuted. What we have here IMHO is the concept of too big to prosecute or perhaps too politically connected to prosecute.
Two bit corrupt local politicians like Aaron Broussard are a dime a dozen around here. Locking up miscreants like him up while leaving the politically connected people that provided the payoffs insure the cesspool will continue. As I noted often during our insurance blogging days, in today’s day and age the Department of Justice is an expert at crushing ordinary people that stiffed FEMA for a few thousand dollars after Katrina but seemingly had no problem with insurance companies that stole billions defrauding the National Flood Insurance Program dumping their wind claims on the flood program. Confidence inspiring it isn’t.
Finally I could not help thinking of Mark Titus yesterday. Unlike Broussard and Wilkinson, Titus did not have a big chip to play in the hunt for Fred Heebe beyond being related to Dominick Fazzio. Unlike Tom Wilkinson, who Judge Head noted had the funds to pay his entire restitution bill but was allowed generous payment terms in spite of that fact, Titus’ property is being forcibly seized. This is the justice system I saw yesterday, where the least culpable are crushed while those with the greatest culpability are given sweetheart deals. For the public in this case the unkindest cut of all follows as I end with the following snippet from Drew’s second story on this topic:
Perhaps tellingly, however, the Broussard prosecutors made no mention during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing of Broussard or Wilkinson cooperating with the government, whether with the local U.S. attorney’s office or the Justice staffers, on the River Birch case. A kind word to that effect, in the form of what is known as a 5K letter, might have persuaded the judge to impose lesser sentences than the ones he chose.
File this one under snookered again………