Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison for his March conviction on racketeering and fraud charges.
“Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of public corruption, particularly when it involves an elected official,” U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. said in a written statement. “Such corruption greatly erodes the public’s confidence in government and public institutions.”
Brown, 46, declined to comment after the hearing.
But Bruce A. Craft, the former mayor’s attorney, said 10 years “is a long time for Saints tickets.”
Government witnesses testified at trial that Brown accepted more than $5,000 in professional sports tickets, a hotel stay and cash from federal investigators posing as corrupt businessmen.
Craft said Brown will appeal both his conviction and sentence.
However, Craft added: “We’re grateful,” for Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson’s decision to impose a sentence that was nine years under minimum federal sentencing guidelines.
Brown is the first former public official to be sentenced as a result of a years-long FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials.
The sting used undercover FBI agents and operatives to seek municipal contracts in the Baton Rouge area for a fictional garbage-can-cleaning service known as Cifer 5000.
Bribes were offered to several area officials, and some took the bait.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson argued against Craft’s request for a probationary sentence for Brown.
Amundson said trial evidence showed Brown believed he would receive 10 percent of Cifer 5000’s profits in return for the municipal contract he promised to deliver.
The prosecutor added that Brown wrote a letter, under the mayor’s letterhead, that was designed to persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a $3 million grant to Cifer 5000.
Another Brown letter was designed to persuade investors in Dallas to pour at least $2 million into Cifer 5000, Amundson said.
“Mr. Brown was engaged in bribes,” Amundson told Jackson. “He was willing to sell his office.”
Amundson said Brown’s sentence should send a message to other public officials tempted toward corruption.
That message, Amundson said, should be: “A politician like that will suffer a very severe sentence in the Middle District of Louisiana.”
Several area residents noted that Brown has a 3-year-old son. They pleaded for Jackson to grant leniency.
The Rev. Raymond A. Jetson, pastor of Star Hill Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, was among those supporters.
Jetson said he has known Brown since 1993.
Jetson, a former state legislator, added: “I was just so impressed by his passion for service.”
Jetson said he campaigned for Brown’s election as mayor.
“I sensed and saw in this man a … desire to serve people,” Jetson told Jackson. “His requests of me were always things intended to benefit others.”
Paula Jones Collins, of Baton Rouge, told the judge that Brown’s wife is terrified that he will not be able to raise his son.
“She’s scared,” Collins said. “I’m scared.
“Maurice is guilty, perhaps,” Collins mused. “But to be sentenced as a hard-core criminal? Maurice was like country come to town.”
Ferrante Dominique, head football coach at defending 1A champion White Castle High School, shed tears as he said: “If it wasn’t for Maurice Brown, I’d probably be in the graveyard.”
Dominique said Brown counseled and assisted him when he was a rebellious youth.
The coach added that Brown’s help enabled him to cease abusing drugs.
Brown helped many troubled people get a second chance, Dominique said.
“I’m one,” Dominique said. “I thank God for his assistance.
“I thank God I never had to spend a day in jail,” the coach told the judge.
But Jackson told everyone in the courtroom that Brown’s “shocking dishonesty in this case … demands a significant sentence.”
The judge added he could not sentence Brown to “a slap on the wrist.”
In addition to the 10-year prison term, Jackson ordered Brown to repay the federal government $5,513 for the gifts he accepted in return for his pledge of municipal business for Cifer 5000.
In related cases, guilty pleas to felony charges have been entered by former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr. and former Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis.
Former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson was convicted at trial in June.
Nelson, Lewis and Johnson are not yet scheduled for sentencing.
White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown, brother of the former mayor, was acquitted at trial in March.
Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith is scheduled for trial next week.
Former St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace is scheduled for trial in January.