A former New Orleans police officer has agreed to pay a $1,000 civil penalty to settle state ethics charges stemming from his acceptance of cash payments from a tow-truck operator conducting municipal business.
The officer, John Ray, served in the New Orleans Police Department for nearly 40 years and, for a time, worked in the department’s towing and recovery unit, dispatching towing companies to recover vehicles on an ostensibly rotating basis.
Prosecutors charged Ray with public bribery in 2012, alleging the veteran officer lined his pockets in exchange for steering city business to Robert Kingsmill, a tow-truck operator granted immunity to testify in the case.
Even as Kingsmill admitted wrongdoing, he characterized his cash payments to Ray as “gratuities” — a reward for a job well done — rather than bribes. He said a rival company had encroached on his assigned territory and that Ray had been the first officer to keep the competition at bay.
“Everybody likes cash,” Kingsmill told the six-person jury, noting the lack of a paper trail left by $100 bills. “You never turn down cash.”
Ray did not testify, but his attorney, Eric Hessler, likened the under-the-table payments to a business owner rewarding an officer with a bottle of water for chasing away a robber.
The jury found Ray not guilty of malfeasance in office, a reduced charge prosecutors settled on days before the 2013 trial in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
While Ray beat the bribery rap, he soon had to answer to the Louisiana Board of Ethics, which charged him in May 2014 with breaking two laws on eight occasions between January 2010 and December 2011.
One of the laws prohibits public servants from receiving “anything of economic value,” other than their government pay, for performing official duties. The other forbids public employees from accepting gifts from someone who “has substantial economic interests which may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the public employee’s official duty.”
A consent order signed Feb. 20 says Ray accepted a total of $800 from Kingsmill.
While under internal investigation, Ray resigned from the NOPD in August 2013, said Tyler Gamble, an NOPD spokesman.
Kingsmill, who owns a 50 percent interest in Kingsmill Auto Services, agreed to pay $800 to settle his ethics charges, state records show.
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