Ira Thomas, an Orleans Parish School Board member who resigned his seat last week after being charged with taking a bribe, pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance Monday.
Thomas entered his plea before a magistrate judge, a formality required in all felony cases. He is expected to plead guilty once his case shifts to U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan’s courtroom.
Thomas was charged in a federal bill of information rather than a grand jury indictment, generally a clear indication that a defendant is cooperating with authorities.
In the meantime, Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson Jr. set a pretrial conference date before Morgan for 1 p.m. April 16 and a trial date of May 18.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. announced the charges against Thomas last week, accusing the former School Board president of accepting cash in exchange for helping to fix a janitorial contract with the school district.
The bill of information laid out the details of a sting operation carried out by federal authorities in which a confidential witness approached a School Board employee about the contract and then allegedly talked with that employee and Thomas about paying a kickback.
Polite’s office said the confidential witness ultimately delivered $5,000 to someone identified as “Private Citizen B,” who then split the money with Thomas.
Thomas faces charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud, which could cost him up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.