Prosecutors never technically charged former Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Mark Hebert in the murder of Albert Bloch, a Vietnam veteran who floated around Metairie bars before he seemed to drop off the map in late 2007.
It turns out they didn’t need to.
Hebert pleaded guilty only to stealing Bloch’s bank cards and ringing up huge bills on them. But the evidence prosecutors compiled to suggest that Hebert then killed Bloch to cover up the initial crime proved “clear and convincing” enough for a federal judge on Monday to hand him a 92-year prison term.
U.S. District Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo threw the book at the former deputy, who pleaded guilty to seven counts of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and depriving Bloch of his rights under color of law.
Federal authorities pursued an unusual strategy to secure a much stiffer prison sentence than usual on those charges, essentially proving murder at Hebert’s sentencing hearing in July. Afterward, Triche-Milazzo made it clear that she thought prosecutors eclipsed the “preponderance of the evidence” standard by a long shot.
“I have no doubt that Mr. Hebert killed Mr. Bloch and disposed of his body for personal financial gain,” the judge said Monday as Hebert stood for sentencing. “You wanted everything that belonged to Albert Bloch, even his life.”
Triche-Milazzo keyed in on Hebert’s role as a law enforcement officer and the use of his position to exploit the 61-year-old barfly.
“Your violation of that sacred trust is unconscionable. This heinous crime is beyond comprehension,” she said.
The sentence came minutes after a shackled Hebert delivered an emotional plea for mercy.
Sporting a full salt-and-pepper beard with his hair tied back, Hebert, 49, said his life was spiraling downward by the time he defrauded Bloch, drawing cash — sometimes while on duty — and charging more than $10,000 in race car parts, appliances and other gear on Bloch’s bank cards.
The 19-year law enforcement veteran urged the judge not to consider murder in weighing his sentence, maintaining that he never went further than stealing.
“For all my years of service, or even as a citizen, I have never used excessive force or deadly force on another human being,” he said.
Hebert said the chaotic aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita sent him into “a progression that led me out of bounds.”
“My life was in total disillusionment, with overwhelming pressures in my career, my marriage coming to an end,” Hebert added, sprinkling his confession with declarations of religious faith.
“Racing cars, it became my addiction, which led me to (seek) funds to support my obsession. Which led me to commit a crime,” he said. “In a short time span, I resorted to what I stood against as a citizen and a law enforcement officer.”
Hebert, a traffic deputy at the time, responded to a single-vehicle crash on Aug. 2, 2007, in which Bloch, a chronic alcoholic, was injured and hospitalized. Hebert took Bloch’s wallet and cellphone and quickly went to town.
He used Bloch’s credit cards to buy car parts, a stove, welding equipment, GPS units and other devices. He gave one GPS unit to his then-wife for her birthday, she testified.
He told police that he had befriended Bloch and that the older man was bankrolling his car-racing pursuit.
Hebert held to that account on Monday, saying he met Bloch and the two “maintained a friendly rapport for each other,” but “regretfully I misused Mr. Albert’s generosity and trust.”
Federal prosecutors said Hebert grew alarmed after Bloch spotted the fraud, canceled his debit card and got a replacement.
Hebert somehow got hold of Bloch’s checks and replacement card and started charging hefty purchases shortly after Bloch’s last cash withdrawal at 2:13 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2007, at his favorite watering hole, Joe’s Caddy Corner.
Triche-Milazzo rejected a handful of purported sightings of Bloch after that. The last true sighting, the judge found, was a day later, when a patron at Joe’s saw him sitting at the end of the bar as she left.
“See you tomorrow, darlin’,” he told her.
A search of Hebert’s Covington house later turned up Bloch’s TV, the judge determined. The key to Bloch’s abandoned Volvo was found in Hebert’s patrol car.
In a 60-count indictment handed up in March 2013, a federal grand jury stopped short of charging Hebert with murder but found he “did kill, or participate in conduct that caused” Bloch’s death, as part of a scheme to get Bloch’s replacement debit card and to keep him from reporting the fraud.
Triche-Milazzo could have sentenced Hebert to life in prison or, alternatively, more than 150 years behind bars under the maximum sentences for the crimes to which he pleaded guilty.
The potential sentence became much more severe because the judge found him guilty of killing Bloch as a part of the fraud and theft scheme — even if he did not plead guilty to murder.
Hebert’s attorney, Davidson Ehle III, said he plans to appeal the sentence.
“Nowhere has a defendant been accused of bank fraud but sentenced for murder,” he said.
Hebert had earlier turned down an offer of 25 years in prison, contingent on his agreeing to tell authorities what happened to Bloch.
Bloch’s older brother, Vernon Bloch, weighed in with the judge during a victim statement Monday, saying, “The fact this crime was committed against our family by law enforcement was just absolutely devastating to us. It’s just so much worse.”
Outside the courtroom, Vernon Bloch said the family plans to erect a plaque for his younger brother at a national cemetery in Pennsylvania. They lost touch with Albert Bloch after Hurricane Katrina and have not yet completed the process of certifying his death, he said.
Hebert’s statement to the judge, which included prayers for Bloch’s family, didn’t register much with him, Vernon Bloch said.
“He’s pleading for the judge to take it easy on him,” he said. “It’s hard for me to put a lot of stock in anything he says.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.