A day after a federal judge trimmed her prison sentence for steering public money to sham nonprofits controlled by allies of convicted former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, Renee Gill Pratt asked the court to grant her a new trial.
The former New Orleans City Council member is the latest to try a tactic that has become increasingly popular among high-profile federal court defendants in New Orleans: claiming her trial was prejudiced by the antagonistic anonymous online commenting of former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, as well as alleged leaks to the media about a separate corruption case involving the Jefferson political machine.
Perricone, who resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s Office two years ago after it was revealed he frequently commented under stories at nola.com using an array of aliases, penned a host of attacks on Gill Pratt, as well as the former congressman and his family, with whom she was closely identified.
Perricone was the lead prosecutor in the bribery trial of Mose Jefferson, the congressman’s brother and Gill Pratt’s former boyfriend, but he wasn’t part of the trial team that prosecuted Gill Pratt.
A number of defendants have argued that Perricone’s commenting — as well as that of former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann — should be grounds for throwing out a guilty verdict or quashing an indictment.
But the tactic has been largely unsuccessful.
The lone exception is a big one: A federal judge threw out the guilty verdicts in the Danziger Bridge police shooting case largely because of the commenting by prosecutors and the judge’s dissatisfaction with the government’s efforts to root out the misconduct.
Defense attorneys have also sought to use alleged leaks to the media by federal investigators or prosecutors to dismantle pending cases, and Mike Fawer, Gill Pratt’s lawyer, is the latest to do so.
However, the alleged leaks he lists don’t involve Gill Pratt, but Mose Jefferson, her longtime companion.
Jefferson died while serving a federal prison sentence for bribing a former Orleans Parish School Board member, in a case prosecuted by Perricone. In his motion for a new trial, Fawer argues that because of Gill Pratt’s public association with Jefferson, the negative publicity about him ended up prejudicing her as well.
Like other defendants, Gill Pratt asserts that the misconduct by Perricone and Mann was so “egregious” that it is grounds for a new trial. Fawer also asked for a hearing to question jurors about whether they saw Perricone’s posts. He also wants to question prosecutors, reporters and others about alleged leaks in various other cases investigated by the FBI.
Gill Pratt was convicted on a racketeering charge in 2011 for helping Mose Jefferson, his sister Betty and others pilfer public money she helped channel to a string of nonprofits they had set up, purportedly to help low-income children and families.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle on Wednesday ordered her to surrender to federal prison on June 30 to begin a four-year sentence.