New Orleans — The former purchasing director of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office will plead guilty this week in federal court to conspiracy to commit bribery, his attorney said Monday after a procedural court appearance.
John Sens pleaded not guilty Monday before a magistrate, but he plans to reverse that plea Wednesday when he appears before a district court judge, his attorney, Brian Capitelli, said. Federal rules prohibit guilty pleas at initial arraignment hearings.
Sens was charged late last month in what federal prosecutors say was a bid-rigging scheme at the Orleans Parish Prison. Investigators allege Sens accepted thousands of dollars in cash and gifts from a contractor hired at the Orleans Parish jail to do electrical and other work on FEMA-funded jail buildings going up in the aftermath of Katrina.
Sens and Gerard Hoffman, a former colonel at the jail who served as director of maintenance, were each charged Feb. 26 with a single conspiracy to commit bribery count. Hoffman was not in court today.
John Sens is the brother of Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens, a close friend and political ally of Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who oversees the prison. Gusman hired John Sens to work at the jail soon after he was elected sheriff, in 2005.
Last summer, as news of the federal probe broke, Gusman yanked Sens from his post as purchasing director and reassigned him to a different administrative post. Gusman has expressed his disappointment in Sens’ alleged big-rigging and has said that he knew nothing of them.
Sens resigned Feb. 22, days before the federal charges were lodged.
The bid-rigging scheme that Sens is accused of orchestrating was straightforward.
The contractor and a related subcontractor, identified only as “Businessman A” and “Businessman B” in the Feb. 26 bill of information, submitted false bids said to be from competitors that were actually submitted by the contractor who got the job.
The government says that Sens was aware of the bid-rigging scheme and received, among other gifts for his participation, four George Rodrigue Blue Dog prints and a free pool built at Sens’ Waveland, Miss., home.
In bribing Sens, the contractor is said to have earned millions in ill-gotten contracts, according to the government’s bill of information.
Sens is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond and can’t travel outside of southeastern Louisiana, according to instructions given him by Judge Karen Wells Roby, the magistrate who accepted Sens’ plea Monday.
Roby set a pretrial conference for May 1, and a trial date for May 13.
But Sens’ case will likely never make it to trial. Sens intends to plead guilty on the conspiracy to commit bribery charges before Section N District Court Judge Kurt Englehardt, Capitelli said.
This story was published in conjunction with The Lens, a nonprofit online newsroom based in New Orleans, http://TheLensNola.org.