Prosecutors painted Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith as a greedy bribe solicitor Friday, the first day of testimony in Smith’s trial on racketeering and fraud charges.
But Smith’s attorney argued the chief was improperly entrapped by federal investigators, who led an innocent man into crimes they created.
The police chief’s indictment resulted from an undercover sting operation the FBI dubbed Operation Blighted Officials.
That sting centered on bribes paid to municipal officials in several Baton Rouge-area cities to secure public contracts for a fictional garbage-can-cleaning business known as Cifer 5000.
Former Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis and former City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr. pleaded guilty to felony charges as a result of the sting.
Smith had “an insatiable appetite for money and other things of value, bribes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Jefferson told the jury of eight men and four women.
“Time and time again, Chief Smith put his hand out, asking for bribes,” Jefferson added.
At least 14 times, Jefferson said, Smith solicited bribes, “betraying the public and his fellow law enforcement officers.”
J. David Bourland, Smith’s attorney, reminded jurors: “There are always two sides.”
Bourland described Smith as a man who was “doing an honorable job … just walking along and minding his business.
“What happens?” Bourland asked. “Bam! Up jumps trouble.
“Trouble found him,” Bourland said. “Trouble comes in all kinds of disguises.”
Bourland added: “There was no crime here. We wouldn’t be here today if not for the FBI. The FBI created the scheme.”
Because outlaw public officials can be adept at concealing their crimes, Jefferson told jurors, sting operations often are necessary to expose public corruption.
If not for undercover agents, Jefferson added, “The chief’s corruption would have continued to go undetected.”
Jefferson said Smith sold two Port Allen police badges to FBI undercover operative William Myles, fixed traffic tickets for additional money and accepted $1,000 to write a letter seeking lenient treatment for a drug defendant in Connecticut.
During the investigation, Jefferson said, Myles posed as a corrupt executive with Cifer 5000.
Smith also accepted hundreds of dollars to use confidential law enforcement data bases to obtain background information on people Myles wanted to know more about, Jefferson said.
Bourland countered that Smith received less than $4,000 from Myles. He noted that the FBI paid Myles $661,048 over several years that the operative worked in Louisiana.
Jefferson told jurors that Myles worked on more than a dozen other cases while he was in Louisiana. Those cases were built over five years in several states and involved national security investigations, probes into bank fraud and other efforts at exposing public corruption, the prosecutor added.
In Port Allen, Jefferson said, Smith decided “to trade the power of his office … for personal profit.
“He made it clear he wanted to be a player in this scheme of corruption,” the prosecutor said.
Jefferson said audio and video recordings will prove the validity of the charges against Smith. He promised jurors they would hear evidence of crimes “straight from the mouth of Fred Smith, his own words, his own voice.”
Jefferson noted that Myles began working for the FBI in an effort to secure favorable treatment for his college-age son, who was indicted for drug offenses.
Bourland later suggested that federal officials’ letter on behalf of Myles’ son was no different than the letter that Smith wrote on behalf of the fictional drug defendant in Connecticut.
During questioning of FBI Special Agent Maurice J. Hattier Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney M Patricia Jones asked whether there was a difference between those two letters.
Hattier replied that no one paid a bribe to have the letter written on behalf of Myles’ son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson questioned Port Allen Police Detective Jeremy Thompson about four people whose names Smith asked him to run through the National Crime Information Center in West Virginia.
Thompson said Smith told him the background checks were for an investigation.
But computer operators balked at that request and said the type of investigation had to be included in the request for information, Thompson told jurors.
Amundson asked whether the four names were ever involved in a burglary investigation in Port Allen.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Thompson replied.
Amundson then asked whether Thompson would have requested NCIC information on the four names if he had known money and meals were provided for its receipt.
“No, I would not,” Thompson said.
The trial resumes Monday in the courtroom of Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson. It is expected to last for about two weeks.