St. Bernard Parish’s recently elected district attorney on Tuesday was added as a defendant to a 2-year-old civil racketeering lawsuit that now alleges he was “clearly part of the conspiracy” involving shakedowns of out-of-state contractors handling debris removal work in St. Bernard after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Days after his election last month, Perry Nicosia was sworn into office following the death of his longtime predecessor, Jack Rowley.
In an amended four-count complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in New Orleans, two contractors — Stephen Farmer, of Mississippi, and Curt Causey, of South Carolina — allege they were required to pay Nicosia and his two former law partners, Lance Licciardi and Randy Nunez, kickbacks in exchange for getting cleanup work.
The money allegedly went through checks written to a shell company, St. Bernard Debris Removal, that Nicosia registered in 2006.
A third contractor, Robert Casey, allegedly was forced to pay Jeff Difatta, the son of former Parish Councilman Joey Difatta, a piece of his earnings from the cleanup work. Casey, who was from Illinois, recently died, the lawsuit notes; he has been succeeded in the litigation by Rosetta Ray Casey.
Nicosia’s alleged involvement in the 2012 case is one of the few new details to emerge in the amended complaint Tuesday. Allegations about his possible role in the shakedowns became an issue in the recent campaign. Previously, Nicosia has claimed he was a “silent partner” in the business and has dismissed the allegations, saying the company was not profitable. He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
A separate 25-page court filing Tuesday outlined the basis of the lawsuit’s racketeering allegations against the three men, as well as allegations against John “Mike” O’Malley, who owned D&O Contractors Inc., a large Kenner-based subcontractor of post-Katrina cleanup work in St. Bernard, and Daniel Wagner, who managed the Kenner firm.
O’Malley and Wagner “demanded” that outside subcontractors pay kickbacks to the four men, according to the lawsuit.
They “agreed to the objective of extortionately demanding” that the men handling the debris work pay part of their “earnings to such local St. Bernard Parish residents in order to assure their continued profits and edge in continuing to secure and administer the post-Katrina St. Bernard Parish subcontracts,” the lawsuit claims.
The 25-page case statement contends 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.”
The court filing contends that 151 pages of transcripts of telephone recordings and conversations Farmer had with O’Malley, Licciardi and Nunez show how they coerced him into agreeing to share his earnings with St. Bernard Debris Removal even though it did “no work for splitting part” of the checks and it “did not even own any equipment.”
The lawsuit describes the allegations as “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 in St. Bernard Parish.”
The complaint says that, “whether (then) St. Bernard Parish President Junior Rodriguez knew it or agreed or not, the defendants repeatedly told plaintiff Farmer that Junior Rodriguez was requiring plaintiff and other outside contractors to pay part of their earnings to defendants Lance Licciardi and Randy Nunez or other local Rodriguez cronies.”
The complaint alleges that Farmer was informed 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.”
The complaint alleges that the meetings with Farmer were held at the Nicosia, Licciardi and Nunez law firm, during which Nicosia “often stopped by to speak with those gathered.”
Part of the arrangement called for Farmer to pay $1 per cubic yard of debris removed, as well as half of any money collected for demolition work and half of his retainer for cleanup work. For a while, Farmer or his assistant would pick up his check for the work, then go to the law firm to figure out how much would need to be paid as a kickback.
At one point, the complaint alleges, the checks were issued in the name of St. Bernard Debris even though Farmer had done the work.
The court filing alleges that the contractors were extorted out of at least $780,000.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.