Prosecution witnesses contradicted some of former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson’s defenses against federal racketeering and wire fraud charges Tuesday.
Page A. Pate, one of Nelson’s attorneys, told jurors in Baton Rouge last week that Nelson didn’t accept some alleged bribes until after a grand jury subpoenaed his credit report. That action froze Nelson’s access to credit at a time when his wife was expecting their third child, Pate said.
But representatives of a credit-reporting agency and three banks testified Tuesday that credit-limit reductions in the summer of 2009 had nothing to do with the subpoena.
“It doesn’t show up on any credit report,” Steve L. Newnom of credit-report giant TransUnion said of the subpoena.
“Could it (the subpoena) affect a consumer’s credit score,” Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Patricia Jones asked.
“No, it could not,” Newnom replied.
Prosecutors have said Nelson accepted more than $22,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI operative and the two undercover FBI agents to ensure that a fictitious garbage can-cleaning business, Cifer 5000, would receive a municipal contract in New Roads as part of “Operation Blighted Officials.”
Derek C. Ford, a risk manager for Citibank, testified that the bank owns Home Depot’s credit card.
Ford said Citibank slashed the credit limit on Nelson’s Home Depot card from $9,000 to $3,200 in November 2009. He said that action was taken because Nelson had delinquent payments; too many credit inquiries in one year; and too many consumer finance accounts.
Jones, the prosecutor, noted that Nelson had received cash payments of $5,000 from two undercover FBI agents in September 2009 and October 2009.
Ford said Citibank’s $5,800 reduction of Nelson’s credit limit took place in November 2009. He said that action was taken automatically by a bank computer program.
Ford also said Citibank uses Equifax for its credit searches, not TransUnion, which received the subpoena.
Doug Huss, senior vice president for risk management at World’s Foremost Bank, testified that the Nebraska lender is the exclusive credit card issuer for Cabela’s.
Huss testified WFB cut Nelson’s credit limit in half in September 2009, dropping it to $5,000. He said a computer program took that action after Nelson missed a payment and maintained a payment rate of only 1.29 percent for six months.
“Does that mean he wasn’t paying enough each month?” Jones asked.
“That is correct,” said Huss, who added that WFB requires a payment rate of at least 3 percent.
Amy Griffin, vice president for Bank of America, said that lender reduced Nelson’s credit limit in August 2009 by $5,600.
Griffin said Nelson had revolving debt on a number of credit cards, and, “We did not know what his assets were.”
Earlier, FBI operative William Myles told Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson the money Nelson received was also for two letters Nelson wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and purported investors in Dallas.
Nelson was told the letters were intended to secure as much as $4 million in federal grants for Cifer, Myles testified. The then-mayor also was told the letter to investors could mean as much as $3 million for the firm.
Myles added that Nelson believed he would receive 10 percent of any Cifer profits that resulted from his assistance.
Nelson’s letter to the EPA stated that all four Pointe Coupee Parish mayors supported Cifer 5000’s plans for service in their cities.
Prosecutors focused the jury of five women and seven men on that portion of the letter.
During questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Jefferson, Livonia Mayor Troy Chustz testified Tuesday that he never had any discussions with Nelson about Cifer 5000.
“Is that (letter) true?” Jefferson asked.
“No, sir,” Chustz replied.
Justin Cox, mayor of Fordoche from 1999 through 2010, echoed Chustz in his testimony.
Morganza Mayor Salvador Tuminello also testified that he never talked with Nelson about either Cifer 5000 or the letter to the EPA.
The EPA and investor letters actually went to the FBI. Cifer 5000 was an imaginary company. Myles and two FBI agents posed as corrupt businessmen seeking municipal contracts for Cifer in the Baton Rouge area.
In addition to Nelson, indictments were obtained against six other municipal officials in Port Allen, St. Gabriel and White Castle.