The federal racketeering indictment against Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis and Police Chief Fred Smith is similar to those that recently resulted in convictions against former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson and former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown.
But Lewis and Smith face the possibility that a convicted felon and former member of the Port Allen City Council may testify against them at their trial, scheduled for July 25 in Baton Rouge.
And a jury’s March 3 acquittal of White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown appears to have influenced defense plans for Smith in his upcoming trial with Lewis.
Mario Brown’s acquittal on all charges occurred after his attorney, John S. McLindon, argued that the police chief’s actions were strongly influenced by his older brother, the former White Castle mayor.
Now, Smith’s attorney, J. David Bourland, is fighting to distance the Port Allen police chief from Lewis, the Port Allen mayor.
Bourland has asked U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson, of Baton Rouge, to prohibit prosecutors from mentioning Lewis’ felony case to jurors if the mayor decides to enter a plea agreement before next month’s trial.
If Lewis pleads guilty, Bourland told Jackson in court filings, that plea should be “excluded from any evidence presentation” by prosecutors. Bourland added that any courtroom disagreements over the issue should “not be allowed in the presence or hearing of the jury.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Corey R. Amundson and M. Patricia Jones recently told Jackson that any discussion of a possible plea by Lewis should take place in a pre-trial conference. Such conferences are closed to the public.
Bourland earlier attempted to persuade Jackson to hold separate trials for Smith and Lewis. The judge denied that request.
Nelson’s conviction and that of Maurice Brown resulted from an FBI sting known as Operation Blighted Officials.
Lewis and Smith were indicted as a result of that same sting, which utilized undercover FBI agents purported to be corrupt officials of a garbage-can-cleaning service known as Cifer 5000.
Lewis and Smith are alleged to have accepted a combined total of about $20,000 in bribes for helping Cifer officials.
Lewis is alleged to have promised municipal business to Cifer for his share of the money, tickets to professional and college sports events and other things of value.
The Port Allen mayor also is alleged to have signed a letter to the EPA after being told it could help Cifer obtain as much as $4 million in federal grants. And he is alleged to have signed another letter to potential Cifer investors, whom he believed could provide the firm as much as $3 million.
Smith is alleged to have accepted bribes in return for official police badges, a letter seeking lenience for a Connecticut drug defendant he did not know, and a pledge to fix two traffic tickets. Smith also is alleged to have used confidential law enforcement databases for background checks requested by Cifer ‘officials.’
POTENTIAL PROBLEM: Former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr. pleaded guilty in July 2010 to a single count of using telephones in aid of racketeering.
Johnson and his attorney, Marci Blaize, signed a plea agreement with Amundson, the prosecutor.
That agreement requires Johnson to testify at trial if prosecutors call him to the witness stand. Prosecutors agreed to inform the sentencing judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson, of Johnson’s cooperation.
Johnson has not yet been sentenced. The telephone count on which he is convicted carries a possible five-year prison term.
In a signed court document, Johnson admitted that he and another Port Allen public official met with Cifer executives at a New Orleans restaurant on Nov. 18, 2008.
Johnson admitted that he and the unnamed Port Allen public official agreed to write letters that falsely stated the City Council had been briefed about Cifer’s request for municipal business. Johnson also said the letters falsely stated there was unanimous council support for engaging Cifer’s services.
As payment for that help, Johnson admitted, 20 tickets to the Bayou Classic football game were mailed to the unnamed Port Allen public official. Johnson admitted that he accepted six of the tickets with a combined value of $2,460. He said the other 14 tickets went to the other public official.
The indictment pending against Lewis and Smith alleges that Lewis and Johnson met with Cifer executives on Nov. 18, 2008, and agreed to accept a luxury suite worth $8,260 for the Bayou Classic football game.
That New Orleans game is held at the Superdome annually. It pits Grambling University against Southern University.
The indictment alleges that Lewis and Johnson attended the Bayou Classic on Nov. 29, 2008, “with over twenty members of their friends and family.”
During that game, the indictment alleges, “Lewis caused himself and his guests to accumulate a food and beverage bill totaling approximately $1,513.”
On Dec. 14, 2008, the indictment alleges, one of the Cifer executives “paid Lewis $1,520 in cash to cover the food and beverage expenses … incurred at the Bayou Classic football game.”
Bourland, Smith’s attorney, has advised Jackson that he will attempt to prove at trial that his client was improperly entrapped by FBI undercover agents.
Nelson’s attorneys, Michael A. Fiser and Page A. Pate, attempted the same defense.
But Tyson ruled last week that entrapment had not been proved. The chief judge refused to allow Pate to argue entrapment before the jury. Nelson was convicted on all counts.
Fiser and Pate said Nelson will appeal his conviction, arguing that jurors should have received instruction from Tyson on how to consider the entrapment defense.
On Smith’s behalf in the upcoming trial, Bourland told Jackson: “The government’s conduct in this matter … created a substantial risk of entrapment.”