Former New Roads Mayor T.A. “Tommy” Nelson accepted bribes from executives of a garbage can-cleaning service before suffering any credit problems because of a grand jury subpoena for his credit report, a federal agent testified Wednesday in Baton Rouge federal court.
The corrupt executives turned out to be undercover FBI agents and a paid undercover operative working a sting operation that resulted in felony charges against Nelson and six other officials in three other area municipalities.
On Tuesday, Nelson attorney Page A. Pate, of Atlanta, Ga., told jurors in Nelson’s trial that the former mayor did not accept bribes until after his credit records were subpoenaed. That subpoena caused Nelson’s credit to dry up when his wife was expecting their third child, said Pate, who said the situation placed tremendous financial pressure on the then-mayor.
FBI Special Agent Tonja Sablatura, however, testified Wednesday the subpoena for Nelson’s credit report was not served until July 2009. By that time, Sablatura said, Nelson had accepted more than $1,000 in cash, hotel stays and tickets to professional sports events.
Nelson eventually accepted more than $22,000 to promote the FBI’s fictional Cifer 5000 garbage can-cleaning service, Sablatura added.
During questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson, Sablatura also said Nelson confessed in May 2010, after FBI agents witnessed him accept an envelope from an undercover FBI operative at a Gonzales coffee shop.
“What was in the envelope?” asked Amundson.
“The cash,” replied Sablatura. “The $5,000.”
Sablatura said the envelope was still in Nelson’s shirt pocket when he was interviewed by FBI agents.
“He (Nelson) reached for the envelope and handed it to us,” Sablatura testified. “He said: ?I guess I’ll give it to you guys.’”
Sablatura added: “He said he wanted to cooperate and tell the truth.”
Sablatura also testified Wednesday that Nelson accepted four cash bribes totaling $20,000 in 2009 and 2010. She said that money was paid to ensure that Cifer 5000 eventually would receive a municipal contract in New Roads.
The FBI agent also said the cash bought a letter of support from the mayor, who believed it would help Cifer 5000 obtain as much as $4 million in federal grants through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sablatura testified.
Another mayor’s letter was sent to Dallas residents whom Nelson believed to be investors willing to pour as much as $3 million into Cifer 5000, Sablatura said. The Dallas residents actually were FBI agents assisting in the investigation.
In his May 2010 interview, Nelson also confessed that he told William Myles, the FBI’s undercover operative, that his cooperation with Cifer 5000 officials deserved much more than $20,000, Sablatura testified.
“He (Nelson) said he had asked Mr. Myles for 10 percent of all revenues he helped generate for Cifer 5000,” the FBI agent added.
“Who solicited the 10 percent?” asked Amundson, the prosecutor.
“Mayor Nelson,” Sablatura repeated.
Nelson also admitted he helped to persuade the Louisiana House of Representatives in June 2009 to adopt a resolution urging municipalities to examine waste containers and comply with the federal Clean Water Act, the agent said.
Nelson, who lost a bid for re-election last year, also admitted that he promised the people he thought were corrupt businessmen that he could inflate reports of local support for Cifer 5000 in letters that company officials might need, Sablatura said.
During cross examination, Pate asked the agent whether Nelson’s credit cards were cut off after the grand jury subpoenaed his credit report.
Sablatura replied that Nelson’s credit cards were not cut off. She said his credit lines were reduced.
Last year, former Port Allen City Councilman Johnny L. Johnson Sr. pleaded guilty to racketeering and bribery charges resulting from the FBI sting, known as Operation Blighted Officials.
Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown was convicted on felony charges March 3. But his younger brother, current White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown, was acquitted on all counts.
Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis and Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith are scheduled for trial on similar charges July 25. St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace is scheduled for trial Jan. 23.