Ex-Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt begins 4-year prison term in Florida _lowres

Renee Gill Pratt

A federal judge has refused former New Orleans City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt’s request to put off paying restitution to the city and state while she serves a four-year prison term for racketeering.

Gill Pratt, who owes more than $688,000 for steering public money to sham charities, sought a reprieve from her debt. Citing expenses related to her ailing mother, she asked U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle to delay an effort by federal prosecutors to garnish her retirement benefits.

Gill Pratt, who began serving a 50-month sentence last month at a minimum-security prison camp in Marianna, Florida, contended that for the government to garnish up to 25 percent of her pension would “severely impact” her ability to take care of her 85-year-old mother, who is in failing health and requires caretakers. A former teacher and state lawmaker as well as a council member, Gill Pratt receives about $1,500 a month from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana.

Prosecutors opposed the delay, noting it would take her more than 151 years to repay her debt even if the government were to immediately begin garnishing a quarter of her benefits.

“Pratt is already 60 years old, and staying collection of restitution for four years while she is imprisoned would deprive the restitution victim of over $18,000 in restitution during an already limited period of realistic recovery,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Mansfield wrote in a court filing. “Given the unlikelihood that Pratt will fully repay all restitution before she or the debt expires, granting (her) motion would contravene the crime victims’ right ‘to full and timely restitution as provided in law.’ ”

Lemelle denied Gill Pratt’s motion, noting she already received “applicable credits” and benefited from a recalculation of her restitution when she was resentenced. She originally had been ordered to pay more than $1 million for her role in a scheme to steer taxpayer money to a string of charities controlled by former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson’s political organization.

Prosecutors have said Gill Pratt knew the organizations were bogus and that the public money would be taken by the Jefferson political clan.

Gill Pratt’s defense attorney, Mike Fawer, has appealed Lemelle’s refusal to award her a new trial. Fawer maintains the case was tainted by Sal Perricone, a former federal prosecutor who authored disparaging online comments about Gill Pratt during the proceedings.

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