A former director of the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence committed mail fraud by diverting public funds to bank accounts she controlled, a Baton Rouge federal court jury decided Thursday night.
Gail Ray Dignam, 64, of Diamondhead, Miss., did not respond Friday to a request for comment. Her New Orleans attorney, Joseph N. Marcal III, also did not comment.
U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. said in a written statement that Dignam caused the federally funded state program “to disburse approximately $51,000, which (she) directed to bank accounts in Louisiana and Utah that she controlled.”
Cazayoux, who prosecuted the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan A. Stevens, also said: “The evidence … showed (Dignam) had previously defrauded two other not-for-profit and/or charitable organizations out of more than $330,000.”
Jurors heard three days of testimony before returning their verdict Thursday night to U.S. District Judge James J. Brady.
Each of Dignam’s two mail fraud charges carries a possible penalty of 20 years in prison.
The governor’s program is focused on encouraging young people to abstain from sex until they are married.
Dignam was the program’s project director under Gov. Mike Foster from July 1999 until March 2002.
She was executive director of the program under Gov. Kathleen Blanco from March 2004 through September 2007.
In July 2009, Legislative Auditor Steve J. Theriot issued a report questioning the combined payment of more than $150,000 to several contractors by Dignam under both Foster and Blanco.
Theriot said he could not determine whether work had been performed for $42,925 paid to a son of Dignam.
Dignam also received $95,464 from a program contractor she hired, Theriot added in his 2009 report.
The auditor’s office later participated in the criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.
David Welker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans office, said: “The public continues to speak through our juries and complainants, and they continue to say: ‘We, the citizens of Louisiana, no longer tolerate corruption by our public officials.’ ”