Saying that “hubris” and “vanity” were his downfall, former City Hall technology czar Greg Meffert delivered a remarkably abject apology in federal court Thursday, pleading for mercy from a judge who in 2011 sentenced Meffert’s corrupt benefactor to a whopping 17 ½-year term.
The halting, emotional speech — coupled with assertions from federal prosecutors that Meffert’s cooperation helped build the government’s case against former Mayor Ray Nagin — apparently paid off. U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon sentenced Meffert to 30 months in prison, less than a third of the 96-month term federal sentencing guidelines would dictate.
The plea deal that Meffert, 49, agreed to in 2010 called for a maximum of eight years, and he did everything he could to reduce that by cooperating enthusiastically with federal authorities. He testified earlier this year against Nagin, who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, a term that begins Monday. Meffert also helped prosecutors convict his friend Mark St. Pierre, who paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks for city work, and he assisted in at least three other related cases.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Coman called Meffert a “once-in-a-decade-type cooperator” in urging Fallon to show leniency. “Without people like Mr. Meffert, public corruption at this high level would go unchecked,” Coman said.
Coman’s remarks came after a choked-up Meffert apologized for overseeing a scheme in which he steered millions of dollars in no-bid technology work to St. Pierre in exchange for roughly $860,000 in kickbacks.
“I’m sorry for all the actions and decisions I made all those years ago,” he said. “The truth is that I’ve lost everything I had. I’ve lost the ability to even provide for my family. I lost my name, in a sense, because of all the hundreds of thousands of articles on Google and everywhere else. Those will follow me for the rest of my life.
“I’m sorry the most because it was wrong. The thinking that went into it is alien to me now. ... All I can come to is — and in the trial testimony, maybe you can see — it was hubris; it was vanity. That’s why so much of it was spent on such idiotic things. ... It was all this, ‘Look at me. I’m somebody.’ Now, I’m a nobody. And I’ve got no one but myself to blame for that.”
Among other things, the proceeds of some of the contracts Meffert routed to St. Pierre went into the purchase of a 57-foot yacht the two used together and named the Silicon Bayou. At St. Pierre’s trial, Meffert memorably testified that St. Pierre often procured strippers who came on the boat and performed sex acts on the two men and their friends.
At City Hall, Meffert was known for his brash personality and his efforts to amass power, epitomized by his adoption of the formerly nonexistent title of “deputy mayor.”
“That hubris or vanity that lived in me — through this extraordinary process, it has been beaten out of me,” Meffert told the judge. “There’s no story out there that can paint me worse than I feel about myself. When your life insurance company drops you because they can’t believe you haven’t committed suicide yet — that’ll get at the vanity pretty good.”
Fallon said he agreed with the government that Meffert’s cooperation was valuable and that he deserved credit for it. But he admonished Meffert for his lapses, saying most defendants he sees are far more disadvantaged.
“You have lived the American dream in a sense,” the judge said. “You have a wonderful family. You have a lot of friends; you have kids. You have a home, education and money. And you get involved in these things.
“You can’t blame anybody but yourself, whether it’s hubris, as you call, or just greed. It’s disconcerting when somebody has all the opportunities you’ve had, in the best country in the world, and you reach to the dark side.”
The judge initially ordered Meffert to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on Nov. 4 but then granted a 60-day reprieve for the holidays, meaning Meffert will report to prison Jan. 3.
At the request of Meffert’s lawyer, Randy Smith, Fallon said he would ask the bureau to consider placing Meffert at a minimum-security facility in Bastrop, Texas, about an hour from Meffert’s hometown of San Antonio, where he now lives.
Three years ago, Fallon sentenced Meffert’s co-conspirator St. Pierre to 17 ½ years in prison, seven times as much time as Meffert will serve. When sentencing St. Pierre, the judge made clear that he regarded Meffert, a public official, as the principal bad actor in the scheme, rather than St. Pierre.
But St. Pierre may be in line for some relief. He wound up cooperating with authorities in their case against Nagin, though he was never called to testify in Nagin’s trial this year.
Last week, court records show, an “in-person status conference” in St. Pierre’s case was held in Fallon’s chambers, an unusual occurrence for a case that has been closed for about three years.
That may be an indication that prosecutors have filed a motion for post-conviction relief on St. Pierre’s part or that they intend to do so. Such motions are generally filed under seal.
St. Pierre’s lawyer, Eddie Castaing, declined to discuss the meeting or whether any such motion had been filed. Coman likewise declined comment.
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.