Former New Roads Mayor T.A. “Tommy” Nelson Jr. “made the choice to sell the power of his office for cash,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Jefferson told a jury of seven men and five women in Baton Rouge federal court Tuesday.
The prosecutor said Nelson accepted more than $22,000 in cash and other things of value from undercover FBI agents and a paid operative in a three-year sting operation. All three federal employees were posing as corrupt businessmen seeking municipal business through bribery. The probe, dubbed Operation Blighted Officials, also resulted in felony charges against six other people in three other area municipalities.
After his arrest in May 2010, “Mr. Nelson confessed,” Jefferson said.
Defense attorney Page A. Pate, of Atlanta, expressed a different view of the investigation and arrest: Nelson was entrapped by FBI agents who caused the then-mayor to suffer a financial crisis by subpoenaing his credit cards.
“There’s absolutely no question that Tommy Nelson took money,” Pate told jurors. He added, however, that the undercover trio used pressure to induce Nelson to buy into “this illusion.”
With his wife pregnant with their third child, Nelson’s credit card companies closed him out in the wake of a federal subpoena of his charge records, Pate told the jury.
“He (Nelson) loses (access to) $11,000 in credit” at a time when he really needed it, Pate said.
Until then, Pate said, Nelson had resisted opportunities to accept bribes for more than a year.
Jefferson, the prosecutor, told jurors the case is not complicated.
“This is a case about corruption, public corruption,” Jefferson said. “It’s a case about that man, Tommy Nelson, former mayor of New Roads, who violated the public trust.”
Nelson is accused of racketeering; wire fraud; use of telephones in aid of racketeering; and making false statements to an FBI agent.
On four separate occasions, Nelson accepted cash payments of $5,000 in return for his help in promoting Cifer 5000, prosecutors said.
Cifer 5000 was a fictitious garbage can-cleaning service the ‘corrupt businessmen’ said they wanted to establish in Louisiana towns and cities.
“Tommy Nelson gave favorable contractual arrangements” to those businessmen, Jefferson said. “That’s an official act.”
The FBI undercover agents were Mike McKinney and Darin Lee McAllister. Their undercover operative was William Myles.
Jefferson told jurors that Myles became a government operative as a way of helping his son, who was charged in a criminal case.
Myles has worked at several locations across the nation on cases involving bribery, fraud and national security, Jefferson added.
“This wasn’t his first rodeo,” Jefferson said.
Pate told jurors they should remember that Myles was paid approximately $500,000 by taxpayers during the time that he worked on Nelson’s case and others.
McAllister was referred to by Jefferson and Pate only by his undercover name of “DJ.”
While audio and video recordings of DJ will be presented to the jury, McAllister will not testify because he was convicted in December in Nashville, Tenn., on felony charges of wire fraud and making false oaths in a bankruptcy case.
Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson has ruled that jurors will not be told of that conviction, which involved the misappropriation of approximately $1.2 million in bank funds.
U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson issued a similar ruling for the February trial of former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown and current White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown. Maurice Brown was convicted on felony charges March 3, but his younger brother was acquitted on all counts.
Others charged in the FBI sting operation include former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr., who pleaded guilty to racketeering and bribery charges. Johnson has not yet been sentenced.
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.
Testimony in Nelson’s trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.