A former Alabama lawmaker who admitted bilking a half-dozen New Orleans residents out of nearly $250,000 with post-Katrina promises of new modular homes appealed in vain Friday for an Orleans Parish judge to set him free from a 60-year prison term in return for an upfront down payment on his large restitution bill.
But Criminal District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny, whose unusual 2010 sentence of John Colvin withstood a challenge that went up to the Louisiana Supreme Court, suggested he’d be open to revisiting the prison term if Colvin, 68, and prosecutors come to terms on a deal to help the victims, some of whom are elderly.
Colvin, a former state legislator from Rainbow, Alabama, pleaded guilty in 2009 to a half-dozen theft counts. He admitted to a scheme in 2007 and 2008 in which he took tens of thousands of dollars from each victim, much of it Road Home money, and left them little or nothing to show for it.
Derbigny sentenced Colvin to 10 years in prison for each count. He then ordered the sentences to run one after another instead of concurrently, as usually is done.
A panel of the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal called that excessive, given Colvin’s lack of a prior criminal record. The state’s high court reinstated the six-decade sentence in 2012, finding Colvin perpetrated “a pattern of conduct that clearly reflected more than business ineptitude and was fraudulent from the outset.”
Colvin’s attorney for the appeal, Timothy Yazbeck, said earlier talks with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office about Colvin’s possible release stalled.
So Yazbeck on Friday presented a legal argument that Derbigny still has the authority to reconsider Colvin’s sentence, even though the time limit has expired on such a motion. Alternatively, Yazbeck argued that Colvin should be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas.
Yazbeck said Colvin is able, if released, to come up with about 20 percent of the more than $230,000 he owes the victims.
“So there is the ability to go ahead and start paying these victims now,” Yazbeck argued as Colvin sat quietly in the courtroom. “It’s a significant something, and it gives the ability (to) Mr. Colvin to go back out and continue to raise money and continue to earn money and make these victims whole.”
Otherwise, “he’s going to die in jail, and there’s no chance for these victims to become whole,” Yazbeck said.
Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly called it an artificial argument.
“You have no authority to reconsider this sentence. Even if you did have the authority, you have no reason,” Daly told the judge. “Now they’re coming in and saying he’s old and the victims are out of luck. Nothing has changed, so there’s no reason to reconsider it.”
Daly said there may be room to hash out some kind of deal “in the interest of justice. At this point it’s just not happening, because he can’t come up with a substantial amount of money.”
Derbigny denied Colvin’s requests but urged the two sides to work it out.
“I would much prefer to see these victims made whole. The ball’s in your court,” he told Yazbeck.
“If we can come closer in terms of what you’re offering, what the state would be willing to accept, the court would be amenable.”
Yazbeck said Colvin, who has spent six years behind bars so far, hasn’t yet paid anything to the victims but his family members have built up a substantial fund.
In the meantime, Colvin is being housed at the Rayburn Correctional Center in Angie.
“He’s hanging in there. He’s getting older,” Yazbeck said.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.