The judge who sent former St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace Sr. to federal prison for 22 years in 2012 cut two years from that sentence Tuesday, but not before saying a greedy Grace used his public office to “line his own pockets.”
Visiting U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr., of Shreveport, resentenced Grace after a federal appeals court in May ordered Hicks to recalculate $6 million-plus in projected monetary losses to the federal government and private investors that the judge used in imposing Grace’s initial sentence.
In making that recalculation Tuesday at the end of a daylong hearing, Hicks sentenced the 70-year-old Grace to 20 years in prison, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to forfeit $22,000 in cash and other bribes. The fine and forfeiture were identical to his initial sentence.
Grace’s attorney, M. Allyn Stroud, told Hicks the forfeiture has been paid in full. Stroud said after the hearing that an appeal of the new sentence is likely.
Inside the courtroom, Stroud called Grace’s original prison term a virtual life sentence and urged Hicks to cut it at least in half, noting that former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison earlier this year for his conviction in a public corruption case.
Walt Green, the U.S. Attorney in Baton Rouge, said Grace’s sentence is believed to be the longest public corruption prison term in Louisiana history.
Grace also is the former president of the National Conference of Black Mayors.
The same 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel that ordered Grace resentenced also affirmed his 2012 convictions on racketeering, bribery and fraud charges stemming from an FBI sting operation — dubbed Operation Blighted Officials — involving a fictitious garbage-can-cleaning service called Cifer 5000.
Grace also was found guilty of obstruction of justice, making false statements to agents of the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and using a telephone in aid of racketeering. He was acquitted on four counts of extortion, one count of wire fraud and one count of using a telephone in aid of racketeering.
Hicks determined Grace was responsible for four different bribery schemes involving more than $9 million, including schemes to extort businessmen seeking to do business in the city and help victims of Hurricane Katrina, Green said.
“This historic sentence should send a loud and clear message that those engaged in public corruption will face severe punishment, and hopefully, any public official who might consider such a path will take heed,” he added.
Stroud told Hicks that Grace, who was St. Gabriel’s mayor for 17 years, did much good for the community.
“Not everything Mr. Grace has done in his life is bad,” he argued.
But First Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson said Grace was the mastermind of a reign of corruption that “stifled his community.”
“This was standard operating procedure,” the prosecutor argued.
Hicks said Grace could have chosen to have an auditor look into Cifer 5000’s lofty financial projections, but instead the then-mayor went for a homerun — “swinging for the fence … for maximum recovery.” Grace displayed his greed and avarice, the judge added.
At Stroud’s request, Hicks said he would recommend to the federal Bureau of Prisons that Grace be moved from a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, to a facility closer to his family in Baton Rouge, perhaps the federal prison in Oakdale.
Grace was one of several area municipal officials convicted as a result of the sting. Others included former New Roads Mayor T.A. “Tommy” Nelson Jr. and ex-White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown, both serving 10-year prison terms; and former Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis, serving 40 months.
Former Port Allen Police Chief Frederick Smith was sent to prison for more than seven years, and former Port Allen Councilman Johnny Johnson was sent to a halfway house for six months and ordered to serve two years of probation.