There is no reason to suggest undercover FBI agents entrapped former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson during a sting operation that resulted in his indictment on racketeering and wire fraud charges, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Defense attorneys Page A. Pate, of Atlanta, and Michael A. Fiser, of Baton Rouge, argued that agents posing as corrupt sanitation service officials unfairly pushed bribes toward Nelson after he agreed their service would benefit city residents.
The garbage can cleaning service was known as Cifer 5000.
Earlier Tuesday, Pate and Fiser rested their defense of Nelson.
Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson dismissed the jury of five women and seven men for the rest of the day. The judge ordered all to return to his Baton Rouge courtroom Wednesday morning for final arguments in the nearly three-week trial.
Pate and Fiser asked that jurors be told Wednesday that they could acquit Nelson if they believed he had been entrapped.
The judge chose not to include that statement in the instructions he will give the jury on Wednesday.
Pate called one witness Tuesday — former FBI Special Agent Darin McAllister — who awaits sentencing in an unrelated criminal case in Nashville.
McAllister was convicted in December on 15 counts of wire fraud, involving $1.2 million in borrowed bank funds and three counts of false statements in his 2009 bankruptcy proceedings.
Jurors were not told of McAllister’s felony conviction. They were told that he no longer works for the FBI and is not employed.
“Yes, Mr. Nelson thought the Cifer 5000 was a good idea for his city,” McAllister testified during questioning by Pate.
Pate said one of the benefits undercover agents pushed toward Nelson was a free hunting trip.
“He did not take a hunting trip, did he?” asked Pate.
“No,” replied McAllister.
Pate then asked whether McAllister offered Nelson a silent partnership in the sanitation service and suggested it could be worth as much as $2 million.
“Yes,” replied McAllister.
Other FBI agents testified earlier in the trial that Nelson accepted the silent partnership.
Nelson, who lost a bid for re-election after he was indicted last year, is alleged to have accepted more than $22,000 in cash and other bribes from government investigators who posed as officials of Cifer 5000.
He did not testify.
FBI agents testified that Nelson received the $22,000 in return for his pledge to help the company obtain municipal business. Nelson, FBI agents testified, also received the money and other gifts in return for letters of support he wrote on behalf of Cifer 5000 to the EPA and Dallas residents he believed were Cifer investors.
Nelson believed those letters could mean as much as $4 million in federal grants and $3 million in new infusions of investor cash for Cifer, FBI agents testified.
FBI agents detained Nelson in May 2010 after the agents made video and audio recordings of Nelson’s acceptance of an alleged $5,000 cash bribe from an undercover FBI operative in the parking lot of a Starbucks Coffee shop in Gonzales.
FBI Special Agent Tonja Sablatura testified early in the trial that Nelson immediately surrendered the envelope containing that cash. She said Nelson then confessed that he had accepted bribes.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Jefferson, M. Patricia Jones and Corey R. Amundson played recorded telephone conversations in which Nelson could be heard asking for money.
In one conversation, Nelson demanded a $10,000 payment from one of the men posing as corrupt businessmen. In another, he bragged that he had received more money from other companies.
Cifer 5000 was a fictitious company used by the FBI in a sting known as Operation Blighted Officials.
Six other municipal officials in three other Baton Rouge-area cities also were indicted last year.
Former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr. pleaded guilty to racketeering and bribery charges. Johnson has not yet been sentenced by Tyson.
Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown was convicted March 3 on felony charges. He has not yet been sentenced by U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson.
White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown, brother of Maurice Brown, was acquitted on all counts in the same trial.
Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis and Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith are scheduled for trial July 25 in Jackson’s court.
St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace is scheduled for trial Jan. 23 in Tyson’s court.