Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown learned Wednesday that he could be sentenced to a prison term ranging from 19 years to 24 years for his March conviction on federal racketeering and fraud charges.
Brown’s sentencing was postponed indefinitely Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson.
Otherwise, Brown would have become the first former public official in the Baton Rouge area sentenced as a result of a years-long FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials.
Brown’s defense attorney and a prosecutor argued several hours over recommendations and conclusions contained in the former mayor’s secret pre-sentence report by federal probation officers.
Pre-sentence reports for all convicted federal felons remain sealed unless those defendants release them.
Defense attorney Bruce A. Craft told the judge his 46-year-old client should not be held responsible at sentencing for $5.5 million in intended government losses and intended racketeering gains.
“Those numbers were selected by the government,” Craft argued on behalf of Brown. “They were, in effect, pulled out of thin air.”
That statement was disputed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson, who led the team that obtained convictions against Brown on 11 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud and use of a telephone in aid of racketeering.
“We all need to be on the same page in terms of the facts,” Amundson said. “Pulled out of thin air? That’s not the case.”
The prosecutor said an accused co-conspirator, former St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace, is alleged to have sought kickbacks from proposed multimillion-dollar contracts that preceded the FBI sting.
Grace is scheduled for trial in January on charges that he, like Brown, accepted cash, tickets to professional sports events and other bribes from corrupt officials with a garbage-can-cleaning service known as Cifer 5000.
Cifer 5000 was an FBI invention, and its corrupt officials actually were undercover FBI agents and an undercover operative working for the bureau.
Amundson said Cifer 5000 was to have been granted municipal contracts in return for those bribes.
And Brown and several other mayors signed official letters intended to obtain $3 million in federal grants for Cifer 5000 and $2 million in infusions of investor cash.
Craft argued the big-dollar rewards proposed by the undercover agents meant sentencing guidelines automatically and unfairly would be pushed to at least 20 years in prison.
Jackson ruled the proposals by undercover agents had to be large enough to be believable to public officials approached in the case.
Craft, though, had some success with the 37 objections he filed against the sentencing recommendations proposed by federal investigators in the pre-sentence report.
Jackson knocked eight years off the original proposed minimum sentence of 27 years. And the judge slashed nine years from the original proposed maximum term of 33 years.
The judge also has authority to drop the eventual sentence below the guideline range.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled several years ago that rigid sentencing guidelines that took effect in 1987 should be considered recommendations rather than rules.
Some other former and current public officials are watching for the sentence Brown eventually receives.
In addition to Grace, Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith has not been tried on his felony charges from Operation Blighted Officials.
Former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson was convicted at trial earlier this year, but has not yet been sentenced.
Guilty pleas have been entered by former Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis and former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr.
Neither has been sentenced.
White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown, the former mayor’s brother, was acquitted on all charges in March.