A jailhouse electrician admitted weeks ago that he repeatedly allowed a state inmate to leave Orleans Parish Prison and visit a girlfriend’s house in Gentilly while the pair were supposed to be performing maintenance jobs, according to court papers filed Wednesday.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday — nearly a month after that alleged confession and a few days after the prisoner’s escapades were reported by The New Orleans Advocate — that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office booked the electrician, Gregory Jacques, on counts of malfeasance in office and being a principal to simple escape.
The prisoner, Wilbert J. Robinson, faces seven counts of simple escape. Jacques allegedly told authorities that he drove Robinson to the Elder Street home on at least seven occasions, according to court records.
Robinson’s girlfriend, Sharon Richards, admitted in an interview last week that Robinson had visited her at her home but insisted it happened only once.
The timing of the arrests raised further questions about the Sheriff’s Office’s handling of the case. The agency received an anonymous tip about Robinson’s visits in early September. A day later, an investigator spotted a Sheriff’s Office vehicle at the girlfriend’s Gentilly residence.
But internal records show the investigator was told not to take any further action at the time. The Sheriff’s Office did not question Jacques in the case until Nov. 6, more than two months after the initial tip.
And while Jacques had been suspended without pay, he was not arrested until more than a week after the District Attorney’s Office reviewed the Sheriff’s Office’s findings and recommended that criminal charges be pursued.
The Sheriff’s Office, which suspected Robinson was having sex with his girlfriend during the unauthorized visits, issued a statement saying it had been conducting its own internal review up until that point.
John Ladd, a former Sheriff’s Office sergeant who investigated the case, has alleged that Chief Deputy Carmen Desadier ordered the probe suspended in what Ladd described as an effort to avoid negative publicity for the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman has not commented on the case, but a spokeswoman, Amy Barrios, has denied there was any attempt to cover up Robinson’s visits to his girlfriend’s home.
“We’ve done everything we could” to get to the bottom of the matter, Barrios said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office also took action to prevent “any further illegal activity by Robinson or Jacques.”
Jacques, 42, has been released from custody on his own recognizance. Robinson, 32, was returned to a state prison in St. Gabriel shortly after the allegations surfaced.
Robinson, previously convicted of arson and armed robbery, had been serving a 20-year sentence in state custody but was transferred to Orleans Parish Prison in April 2012 to work on generators, a move the Sheriff’s Office said was intended to save taxpayer dollars. The prisoner did not qualify for work-release and was not paid.
Robinson would be checked out of the jail for 12 or more hours at a time, supposedly to perform maintenance tasks, internal records show. He would replace his orange prison garb with a blue Sheriff’s Office uniform.
Sheriff’s Office investigators orchestrated a sting operation intended to catch Robinson and Jacques in the act. But the agency ultimately decided it was too risky to allow Robinson out of the jail again.
Richards, in a recent interview, admitted Robinson had visited her in her home but claimed he and Jacques were only delivering a stove to her home. She described Jacques as her “best friend” and said she plans to marry Robinson someday.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission investigated local law enforcement’s handling of the case and referred the matter to the FBI. The bureau’s New Orleans office declined to comment Wednesday.
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