Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith accepted bribes of meals at Drago’s and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Metairie, $300 in cash and a room at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans on the first day the gifts were offered, a prosecution witness testified Monday.
That happened on Jan. 14, 2010, when Smith was introduced to William Myles, an undercover FBI operative posing as a corrupt businessman.
In return, Smith — who is standing trial on federal racketeering and bribery charges — provided Myles with background information from confidential law enforcement databases on people Myles wanted to know more about, Myles said.
Myles testified he posed as an executive of a fictional garbage-can cleaning business called Cifer 5000 and bribed then-Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis over the course of two months in late 2009 before he finally met Smith in early 2010.
Myles said Lewis introduced him to Smith.
Myles, holding a stopwatch Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson handed him, testified it took Smith only 98 seconds at that first meeting at Drago’s to move from introductory chit-chat to the criminal background checks.
Myles said the meeting was held so Smith and Myles could meet and the police chief could deliver background-check information to Myles.
Myles said Drago’s — famous for its char-grilled oysters — was Smith’s choice, and Ruth’s Chris was Lewis’ pick.
Lewis, who resigned in June and pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge, was at the meeting. He is expected to testify for the prosecution at Smith’s trial.
The jury on Monday listened to a recording of the discussion at a noisy Drago’s.
On the tape, Smith is heard explaining that he typically transfers information obtained from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center to another sheet of paper. That way, Smith says, the information cannot be traced back to the Police Department or its computer terminals if the person in possession of the data is stopped by law enforcement.
“Bad things will happen,’’ Smith is heard saying.
“Normally we don’t release this,’’ the police chief says again of the NCIC printout.
Amundson asked Myles for his impression of Smith’s remarks. Myles replied: “I wasn’t the first person doing this with him.’’
Smith also tells Myles to “just shoot me the list’’ whenever he needs him to run criminal background checks on others.
When Amundson asked Myles who paid the bills at Drago’s and Ruth’s Chris, Myles replied, “I paid, but really the FBI paid.’’
Amundson noted that one tab was $255.47; the other was $100.
Outside Drago’s in a car, Smith — after allegedly being handed $300 and a Ritz-Carlton room key — is heard saying, “I can’t help but be happy’’ and “This is beautiful.’’
“Did the chief ever hand it back and say, ‘You’re under arrest for bribery?’ ” Amundson asked Myles.
“No,’’ he answered.
Prosecutors contend Smith also sold two Port Allen police badges to Myles, fixed traffic tickets for additional money and accepted $1,000 to write a letter seeking lenient treatment for a drug defendant in Connecticut.
Smith said in the letter that he knew the teenager well.
“Did he know the young man?” asked Amundson.
“He (the drug defendant) never existed,” Myles replied. “No.”
At least one of Myles’ meetings with Smith occurred in the police chief’s office, Myles testified. Another took place in Myles’ car in the parking lot at Port Allen City Hall. And several took place in Myles’ car in the parking lot of Don’s Seafood restaurant in Gonzales.
Video and audio recordings were made of one of the Gonzales meetings in which Myles hands Smith an envelope.
Smith opens the envelope and appears to be counting.
“What is he doing?” Amundson asked.
“He’s counting the money ($1,000),” Myles told the jury of eight men and four women in the courtroom of Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson.
“He (also) has a couple of tickets to the Lakers game (with the New Orleans Hornets),” Myles noted.
“I wonder if Halle Berry would go with me,” Smith says in the recorded conversation.
Smith’s attorney, J. David Bourland, contends the police chief was entrapped by the FBI sting operation dubbed Operation Blighted Officials.
Bourland suggested in court Monday that local government agencies in West Baton Rouge Parish have been known to ask the Port Allen Police Department to run names through the NCIC.
The FBI sting centered on bribes paid to municipal officials in several Baton Rouge area cities to secure public contracts for Cifer 5000.
Myles testified he bribed then-St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace in 2008 in connection with Cifer 5000. The former mayor is scheduled to stand trial in January.
Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown was convicted in March on racketeering and fraud charges and later sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
Former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson was convicted in June.
Former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr. pleaded guilty to felony charges as a result of the sting.
Lewis, Nelson and Johnson have not been sentenced.
Smith’s trial resumes Tuesday.