Milton Womack, a local guitar player and grandfather of 13, had just agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal authorities against co-defendants in a $17 million Medicare billing fraud case being prosecuted in Baton Rouge.
Stanton “Nan Nan” Guillory was just 18 and, according to state prosecutors, a 7th Ward gang member who two months earlier had driven the car used in a Central City shooting spree that claimed the lives of 5-year-old Briana Allen and Shawanna Pierce in a daytime double killing that rattled the city.
Their paths crossed at 3:59 p.m. on July 27, 2012, according to authorities. That’s when Womack, 60, was gunned down in Gentilly in an alleged hit job that a former attorney called “an assassination.”
Just how prosecutors think Guillory and two other members of the “Young Mafia Fellaz” got recruited for a hit on a white-collar criminal defendant-turned-witness, and by whom, could soon emerge in federal court.
Guillory’s attorney, Alvin Johnson, acknowledged that he’s been told federal prosecutors are seeking to charge Guillory in the alleged contract killing.
“My guy was allegedly being paid to kill the witness in the hit,” Johnson said.
The theory of who killed Womack as he sat in a red Dodge van in the 2700 block of Verbena Street has remained out of public view but was revealed tangentially last month in a trial over the murders of Allen and Pierce.
Pulled from trial
The possible shift to federal court for Guillory follows that trial, which ended with a jury convicting three men in the May 29, 2012, slayings of Allen and Pierce, among other crimes.
Prosecutors pulled Guillory from that trial, though he was identified as the driver and he was named among 15 alleged members and associates of the Uptown “110ers” gang in a 51-count state gang-racketeering indictment in 2013. The indictment wrapped together 15 murders and several other violent crimes in a gang conspiracy case that spawned from the investigation into the murders of little Briana and Pierce.
In the trial of shooters Sam “Lil” Newman, Demond “Lil D” Sandifer and Tyron “T-Man” Harden, prosecutors portrayed Harden and Guillory as members of the Young Mafia Fellaz, or YMF, saying they teamed up with Newman, Sandifer and other 110ers in a gang alliance built on the mantra, “favor for a favor.”
There were apparently no favors in Womack’s killing, only a promise to pay. Johnson said the allegation is that the person who solicited the hit had failed to pony up, and that Guillory was looking for that person before he landed in jail following a traffic stop.
Womack’s murder is tucked deep within the 110ers indictment, as the 67th of 89 “overt acts” supporting the overarching racketeering charge.
“On or about July 27th, 2012, Stanton Guillory ... and two unindicted co-conspirators, R.J. and B.M., committed the murder of M.W., while armed with a 9mm firearm,” is all it says.
Raheem Jackson and Brian Marigny, acknowledged YMF members, both testified at the trial against Harden, Sandifer and Newman, and both acknowledged they had pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit murder for hire.
Though he didn’t mention Womack by name, Jackson also admitted to the jury that his conviction was for the July 2012 killing of a federal witness.
Jackson and Marigny both also testified that they had ridden with Harden and Guillory the day of the Central City shooting spree and would have joined in the attack on a 110ers rival group, the Young Melph Mafia, during which Briana and Pierce were killed. They decided not to “spin on the Melph,” they said, only because they didn’t come armed.
“Tyron had a gun on him. Nan-Nan had a gun on him. So Brian and Raheem asked to be let out,” lead prosecutor Alex Calenda told the jury. Guillory and Harden then picked up Newman and Sandifer, who had a “stick” — an AK-47 that was used in the killings, prosecutors said.
For their testimony, Marigny and Jackson both earned steep reductions in their sentences under deals with the feds that remain under seal.
Marigny’s deal came in a May guilty plea in which federal prosecutors agreed on a sentencing range of 10 to 20 years. Conspiracy to commit murder for hire carries a mandatory life prison term, but prosecutors cited his cooperation, along with the fact that he was a minor when Womack was killed, in agreeing to the lower sentence.
A friend said Womack had gone to Alcee Fortier High School and played guitar in his day with some New Orleans noteworthies — including Art and Cyril Neville — and never much liked work. But after returning from a decade-long hiatus in California, the friend said, Womack got a job in home health care through his sister, Sandra Parkman Thompson.
She was convicted in 2012 on 13 counts of health care fraud and a conspiracy count and sentenced to 18 months in prison in a different federal case.
Now free, Thompson recalled Womack as a loving family man who started playing guitar as a boy and played music both in church and in a local band.
“My brother was at the peak of his greatness. He was argumentative, don’t get me wrong, but he was an awesome family man, an awesome grandfther,” Thomposon said. “He spent his Sundays with the game with his mother. Every Sunday. He loved children. He ministered to them, tried to direct their tasks, help them stay on track. That was a horrible loss for everybody, but especially the kids.”
Womack lived on Laharpe Street in the 7th Ward befor he was shot with a 9mm handgun just two days after a notice of rearraignment appeared in the federal court record in the Medicare fraud case — a clear tip-off to a pending guilty plea.
He had been accused along with several other co-defendants in a 2011 federal indictment alleging a phony Medicare billing scheme by a company called South Louisiana Home Health Care Inc., with offices in New Orleans, Houma and Thibodaux.
Womack allegedly took $300 kickbacks to recruit patients for the scheme, in which prosecutors said the company falsely billed the government for “home health services that were not medically necessary and not rendered” from 2005 to 2010.
Womack was scheduled to come into court on July 30, 2012, to change his plea to guilty, court records show. He never made it.
Dr. Michael Hunter, of New Orleans, would plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, receiving two years of probation and an order to pay $4.2 million restitution.
Others pleaded guilty as well, including Ayanna Age Alverez, who copped to a pair of conspiracy counts and making false statements for Medicare benefits. She later testified against her father and stepmother, Louis and Verna Age, a divorced couple who had started the company.
Louis and Verna Age twice went on trial before a jury convicted them in 2013. Louis Age was sentenced to 15 years in prison; Verna Age got five years. Both were ordered to pay $17.1 million in restitution.
Killing remains a mystery
Just who authorities believe called a hit on Womack remains unclear.
Attorneys for Louis Age have argued in a pending appeal of his conviction that federal prosecutors falsely insinuated during his trial that he had something to do with it.
On the witness stand, Age claimed no knowledge of Womack’s intention to plead guilty and denied an allegation that he tried to pay Womack to “change his story.”
“Do you know where Mr. Womack is today?” a federal prosecutor asked him.
“I don’t know where he is, but I know he’s dead.”
“Do you know how he died?”
“I’ve heard the story.”
“Can you tell it?”
“That he was murdered.”
“When did that happen?”
“I have no idea.”
Attorney Christopher Aberle argued in Louis Age’s pending appeal that “the substantial questioning about Womack unfairly turned a trial about health care fraud into a murder trial.” The evidence, he said, was “purely speculative, nominally relevant at best, and devastatingly prejudicial.”
Federal prosecutors, in a November reply, denied the questioning created any prejudice.
Age, who was principal of the now-defunct Edgelake Preparatory School in New Orleans East before Hurricane Katrina, has not been charged in Womack’s killing. A star lineman with the University of Southeastern Louisiana, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he was drafted by the New York Jets in 1972, playing briefly before a knee injury ended his pro career.
Hilliard Fazande Jr., an attorney friend of Louis Age who had represented Womack before his killing, called Age “the least likely” of all the defendants in the case to have tried to kill Womack.
Fazande called Louis Age, now 65 and imprisoned in Fort Worth, Texas, “one of the most principled men I have ever met in my life.”
Age had no reason to be fearful of Womack, Fazande said. “I don’t think (Womack) was killed on account of this case.”
A different attorney for Womack, Michael Fiser, however, said he has long suspected that the killing was a result of Womack’s decision to testify.
“As far as the death,” Fiser said, “I would call it an assassination.”
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, declined to comment.
“Stanton Guillory is presently under indictment in the 110ers case. Pursuant to office policy, we don’t comment on open cases,” he said.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.