An attorney for former New Roads Mayor T.A. “Tommy” Nelson repeatedly asked an undercover FBI agent Thursday whether Nelson wanted to promote a garbage can-cleaning company without accepting bribes.
The agent repeatedly denied the assertion in Baton Rouge federal court.
Atlanta attorney Page A. Pate noted that Nelson initially agreed to accept $20,000 in stock of an electronic medical records company from federal investigators posing as corrupt officials of the can-cleaning company.
Pate told jurors in Nelson’s criminal trial that FBI Special Agent Mike McKinney was one of the imposters, but steered the former mayor toward cash payoffs.
Pate then asked McKinney whether he moved Nelson to cash because the provision of stock in another company would not have been illegal.
“It was absolutely illegal to me,” McKinney said of the proposed stock transaction. “It was illegal, and he (Nelson) knew that.”
Nelson is fighting charges of racketeering, wire fraud, use of telephones in aid of racketeering and lying to FBI agents.
The trial resumes Monday morning.
The former mayor, who lost a re-election bid last year, is alleged to have accepted more than $22,000 from investigators posing as corrupt officials of Cifer 5000. The payments are alleged to have been made in return for Nelson’s pledge to help the can-cleaning firm obtain municipal business and millions of dollars in federal grants and private investments.
Cifer 5000 was a fictitious firm used in an FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials. The investigation also resulted in the indictment last year of six other municipal officials in Port Allen, St. Gabriel and White Castle.
During questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Patricia Jones, McKinney said he once wondered whether Nelson was an honest public official.
But McKinney said his concern about Nelson’s possible innocence was relatively fleeting.
“He (Nelson) made it clear that he’s not that kind of person,” McKinney told the jury of seven men and five women.
Nelson promoted the Cifer 5000 service as a means of reducing residents’ exposure to disease, including the swine flu.
“He (Nelson) was locked into the idea,” Pate told McKinney. “He felt strongly about the project, correct?”
“Yeah, because he was getting paid,” McKinney replied.
Pate and Baton Rouge attorney Michael A. Fiser have told Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson that they may argue for dismissal of all charges because of alleged entrapment by FBI investigators.
“Y’all were going to let him (Nelson) go (at one point)?” Pate asked McKinney.
“Yes, I was not going to reach out to him again,” McKinney said. But the undercover agent added that Nelson later contacted him again and asked for $20,000 in cash.
Pate then asked why the FBI didn’t arrest Nelson after he had accepted more than $1,000 in cash, tickets to professional sporting events and free hotel stays early in the investigation.
McKinney said his experience with corrupt public officials told him: “If you stopped there … they (public officials) are more apt to argue that they didn’t do it.”
“You wanted to persuade him (Nelson) that it’s OK to do this ($20,000 in cash bribes),” Pate asserted.
“No,” McKinney replied.
Pate said Nelson believed Cifer was a good idea for residents of New Roads.
“I wouldn’t agree with that,” McKinney said. “He saw it as a way to build himself up,” possibly run for Congress and make money.
“If it benefited him politically, that’s not illegal, is it?” asked Pate.
“No,” said McKinney.
Prosecutors played audio recordings of a meeting between Nelson and McKinney at a food court at Cabela’s in Gonzales.
There was no video of that meeting, where McKinney testified he gave Nelson $5,000 in cash.
But Pate noted that a transcript of the audio mentioned that McKinney moved his fingers. The defense attorney wanted to know whether the FBI also had video recordings of that meeting.
McKinney testified there was no video of the Cabela’s meeting. He said he simply told transcribers that he motioned with his fingers toward a newspaper folded over an envelope containing $5,000 when he met with Nelson. He said inclusion of that note in the transcript was simply a mistake.
“He (Nelson) doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing,” Pate suggested at one point.
“He absolutely knew what he was doing,” McKinney said.
Jones, the prosecutor, later asked whether Nelson had several opportunities to say: “I don’t want to do any sort of bribe with you.”
McKinney replied: “He did have the opportunity, and he never said any of those things.”
Jones asked whether McKinney “did anything at all to induce him (Nelson) to take a bribe.”
McKinney denied taking advantage of Nelson, coercing him or inducing him to take bribes.