Ira Thomas, who resigned from the Orleans Parish School Board this month on the day U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office charged him with taking a bribe, appears ready to plead guilty in federal court.
Thomas, who pleaded not guilty last week to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud, is now scheduled to be rearraigned on March 26, according to a Monday court filing.
His likely guilty plea comes as no surprise. Federal prosecutors charged Thomas in a bill of information, generally a clear indication that a defendant is cooperating with authorities.
Thomas, 57, resigned from the School Board on March 6 after he was charged with taking $5,000 in cash in exchange for helping a janitorial contractor win favorable treatment from the school system. Polite said the bribe was disguised as a campaign contribution.
Thomas also resigned as chief of campus police at Southern University at New Orleans.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Anderson described the probe into Thomas as a “real-time” investigation, and the bill of information outlining the charges against him describes what appears to have been a sting operation. It says an unidentified cooperating witness approached someone who worked for the School Board, identified only as “Employee A,” in September 2013. Employee A offered that person a janitorial contract in return for a kickback.
Those two people then allegedly met to discuss the contract with Thomas and someone identified as “Private Citizen B.” Thomas was running for Orleans Parish sheriff at the time and struggling to raise campaign funds. That conversation was surreptitiously recorded by the cooperating witness.
The bill of information says the witness gave Private Citizen B the $5,000 in December 2013 and videotaped the handoff. Then Private Citizen B allegedly deposited the money in his own bank account and gave Thomas a share of it in cash. The documents don’t say how the money was split, but it never reached Thomas’ campaign account, and he never reported receiving the contribution.
About a year later, Thomas and Employee A were allegedly recorded on the phone discussing how to rig the bidding process for the janitorial contract in order to make sure the cooperating witness got the job, according to the bill of information.
The document does not indicate the value of the janitorial services contract, except that it was worth more than $5,000. Nor does it say whether it was ever awarded. It’s not clear how Thomas planned to guarantee that the janitorial firm would get the job.
Thomas ran a distant third in a field of four candidates for sheriff in a race that Sheriff Marlin Gusman won in a runoff.
Thomas’ attorney, John Reed, did not immediately return a call Tuesday. The rearraignment is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.