An attorney for recently elected St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Perry Nicosia has fired back against accusations that Nicosia was part of a conspiracy to shake down out-of-state contractors handling debris removal work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.
The accusations emerged last month when Nicosia was added as a defendant in a 2012 civil racketeering lawsuit filed in federal court in New Orleans. The amended complaint alleges that two contractors — Stephen Farmer, of Mississippi, and Curt Causey, of South Carolina — were forced to pay Nicosia and his former law partners, Lance Licciardi and Randy Nunez, kickbacks in exchange for landing cleanup work in St. Bernard.
The lawsuit alleges “a widespread extortionate conspiratorial scheme to take part of outside subcontractors’ and workers’ FEMA earnings as ‘protection’ money for plaintiffs and others to be able to subcontract for debris removal.”
The contractors allege that they were extorted out of at least $780,000.
According to the amended lawsuit, Farmer was told after the storm that he needed to work out a deal with Licciardi and Nunez if he “knew what was good for him and wanted to keep his subcontract for debris removal.”
It alleges that Farmer resisted doing so until June 2006, at which point he tried to pick up a check for his work and was allegedly told by Licciardi and Nunez that he was “going to have to work through them because they are local and that’s the way their friend Junior Rodriguez wants it.”
Rodriguez was then the parish president.
The meetings with Farmer were allegedly held at the Nicosia, Licciardi and Nunez law firm, during which Nicosia “often stopped by to speak with those gathered,” according to the lawsuit. It alleges that the kickback money allegedly went through checks written to a shell company, St. Bernard Debris Removal, that Nicosia registered in 2006.
Previously, Nicosia has claimed he was a “silent partner” in the business and has dismissed the allegations, saying the company was not profitable.
In a 14-page motion filed Tuesday, Nicosia’s attorney, Randall Smith, said there was “no factual justification for including” Nicosia in the lawsuit. He asked U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to dismiss the claims against St. Bernard’s top prosecutor and to have the plaintiffs pay monetary sanctions for pulling him into the case.
Nicosia’s motion contends that the lawsuit offers “no justification whatsoever for their delay in filing suit against Mr. Nicosia,” after so many years.
It also contends that the lawsuit consists only of circumstantial evidence. “This is likely because plaintiffs have, after the 2 1/2 years that this case has been pending, compiled no evidence that Mr. Nicosia acted improperly,” the motion states. “In fact, Mr. Nicosia submits that he has done nothing wrong here. Despite no evidence of wrongdoing, plaintiffs attempt to extort Mr. Nicosia through this very litigation in the immediate wake of libelous political attacks.”
A 25-page statement filed last month with the amended complaint contended that “direct and circumstantial evidence” exists that would “plainly indicate that Nicosia had to know about and agree to the objectives of the extortionate conspiracy.”
But Nicosia’s motion says the allegations against him — that he was a law partner of the other defendants, that he allegedly received money from Farmer and Causey through the firm and that he often stopped by to talk with people during a meeting — “are all entirely lawful acts.”
Nicosia’s motion also contends that the allegations outlined in the lawsuit “are clearly time-barred,” well beyond the four-year federal statute of limitations and the state’s five-year prescription period.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.