Federal prosecutors rested their two-week-old racketeering and fraud case Monday against former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson.
They then played recordings of conversations between Nelson and a paid FBI undercover operative for a character witness called by Nelson’s defense team. And that witness testified he was “really disappointed” by the things he heard.
Between those two events, outside the presence of the jury, Nelson attorney Page A. Pate, of Atlanta, asked Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson to dismiss the case on grounds that the government failed to prove Nelson committed any crimes.
“A reasonable jury could find that the defendant is guilty on all counts of the indictment,” countered Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson.
Tyson agreed with prosecutors.
“The court finds the evidence in this case is sufficient to sustain a conviction,” Tyson ruled.
In testimony Monday, FBI Special Agent Maurice Hattier Jr. told Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Patricia Jones that Nelson and his wife earned a combined total of more than $100,000 in both 2009 and 2010.
Previous testimony from other FBI agents showed Nelson accepted more than $20,000 in alleged bribes during that same two-year period.
Pate and co-counsel Michael A. Fiser, of Baton Rouge, announced they will call a Tennessee witness for testimony Tuesday.
Pate and Fiser have subpoenaed former FBI Special Agent Darin Lee McAllister, who was convicted on felony charges in an unrelated case in Nashville in December.
McAllister was an undercover FBI agent in the Nelson case.
Three bankruptcy false statement charges, for which McAllister was convicted in Tennessee, were for acts he committed in July 2009, while he was working on the Louisiana case.
McAllister also was convicted on 15 counts of wire fraud committed in 2006.
Those crimes involved more than $1.2 million in bank funds and occurred prior to McAllister’s involvement in the Louisiana case.
Also Monday, Fiser called Scot Byrd, director of economic development for the private Pointe Coupee Parish Economic Endeavor, to the witness stand.
Byrd told Fiser that Nelson achieved a 2009 agreement between New Roads and the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury that kept more than 50 full-time and 100 part-time jobs in New Roads.
That agreement provided a firm $92,000 in city and parish funds to move heavy equipment to the city from another location.
Fiser asked Byrd to describe Nelson’s reputation before his indictment.
“It was good,” Byrd said. “Mayor Nelson was doing a good job.”
Amundson, the prosecutor, then asked Byrd whether he ever accepts anything of value from business officials.
“I refuse to do so,” Byrd said. “That includes lunches.”
Amundson then played several recorded conversations in which Nelson bragged of receiving free gifts, solicited campaign contributions in return for official mayoral acts, and established a one-week deadline for Myles to provide him $10,000.
“That’s not a good thing,” Byrd said after listening to a recording of Nelson telling Myles he would never dump one gift-giving city vendor for another who promised to do the same work for 30 percent less money.
“You’re supposed to put the interest of the city first,” Byrd said.
Amundson asked Byrd whether what he had just heard changed his opinion of Nelson.
Byrd said the information had a negative effect on his opinion.
“I’m really disappointed in what I heard,” Byrd said.
Pate and Fiser had announced prior to Nelson’s trial they may ask Tyson to dismiss all charges against the former mayor on grounds undercover agents entrapped him.
Nelson is accused of racketeering, wire fraud, use of telephones in aid of racketeering and lying to FBI agents.
He is alleged to have accepted more than $22,000 in bribes from corrupt officials of a garbage can cleaning service, Cifer 5000, which was seeking a municipal contract with New Roads.
The corrupt businessmen turned out to be undercover FBI agents; Cifer 5000 was a fictitious firm used in an FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials.
Six other municipal officials have been indicted in Port Allen, St. Gabriel and White Castle as a result of that operation.
Nelson is accused of accepting two separate cash payments totaling $10,000 from FBI Special Agent Mike McKinney in 2009.
He also is accused of accepting two separate cash payments from FBI undercover operative William Myles in 2010.