A former director of the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence gained access to more than $9,000 in government funds by lying about who controlled the money, U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. told jurors Tuesday.
“It’s a real lie, not a white lie,” Cazayoux told the five women and seven men who will decide the fate of Gail Ray Dignam, 63, of Diamondhead, Miss.
“Ms. Dignam did not defraud anyone,” Joseph N. Marcal III, her attorney, told jurors during opening arguments in the Baton Rouge courtroom of U.S. District Judge James J. Brady.
Dignam served in the administrations of Gov. Mike Foster and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Gov. Bobby Jindal replaced her.
Cazayoux told jurors Tuesday that Dignam is guilty of two counts of mail fraud.
Each charge carries a possible prison term of 20 years.
Cazayoux said Dignam placed the name of a family friend on a state contract without the man’s knowledge or permission.
Payments for that contract were then routed to a bank account under Dignam’s control, Cazayoux added.
Marcal told jurors Cazayoux’ allegations are false.
“We’re going to put on evidence that is different from what the government says,” Marcal added.
Dignam signed a plea agreement in the criminal case in early 2010, former Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson said in May. But Dignam never pleaded guilty, and she backed out of the plea agreement.
Tyson died in July, and the case was transferred to Brady.
The trial is expected to last several days.
The case was investigated by the FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, and the Louisiana legislative auditor.