In a long-expected development, the former top aide to Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his alleged role in a scheme to rip off businesses that hired off-duty Sheriff’s Office deputies to work private security shifts.
Former Chief Deputy Gerald “Jerry” Ursin Jr. was charged Tuesday in a so-called bill of information rather than a grand jury indictment, generally a sign that a plea deal has been reached.
“Jerry Ursin has had a distinguished career in law enforcement,” Ursin’s attorney, Pat Fanning, said Tuesday. “He has made a mistake that he has accepted responsibility for, and we’ll go forward from here.”
The investigation into the detail scheme already netted another top aide from the Sheriff’s Office: Roy Austin, a former colonel who organized the private security details and got a fee for doing so.
Austin pleaded guilty last month to inflating his invoices by charging businesses, festival organizers and Mardi Gras krewes for the services of “ghost” deputies who did not actually work any security details.
Court documents filed Tuesday morning charge that Austin shared some of his ill-gotten gains with Ursin by drafting checks made out to relatives of Ursin “under the fraudulent guise of payments for detail work.”
Ursin, the documents say, had “respective family members endorse the checks for subsequent deposit.”
The bill of information lays out eight occasions between 2010 and 2013 on which Ursin is accused of accepting checks through relatives in this fashion. Those checks totaled $2,775.
The court documents in the two cases suggest that Austin was the lead player in the scheme. He had set up a private company, Austin Sales and Service, that provided off-duty deputies for security details, and he had a free hand in deploying deputies for such work.
Austin admitted pocketing at least $83,000 in bogus charges, and a legislative audit that was released around the same time he was charged suggests the actual amount he overbilled was substantially more.
Ursin, by comparison, is alleged to have accepted relatively small amounts from Austin.
Ursin’s case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon. His arraignment is set for July 6.
While the charges are the first faced by Ursin, 62, the former top deputy’s ethics have been called into question in the past.
In 2003, Ursin retired from the New Orleans Police Department while facing an allegation that he had lied about having an undergraduate degree.
A decade later, The Lens raised questions about the business relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and an office supply company owned by Ursin’s in-laws. The local news website found that the firm, Metro Business Supplies, increased its billings to the Sheriff’s Office significantly starting in 2008, the year Ursin was hired.
The charges against Ursin came on the same day that Gusman and federal authorities announced an agreement that essentially will take the city’s troubled jail — the sheriff’s main responsibility — out of Gusman’s control.
Austin and Ursin are the latest in a series of top employees at the scandal-plagued Sheriff’s Office to face prosecution.
John Sens, the office’s former purchasing manager and a brother of Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens, admitted to a kickback and bid-rigging scheme involving at least two contractors who did work for the Sheriff’s Office. Sens was sentenced to five years in prison in connection with that scheme.
Gerard Hoffman Jr., the sheriff’s former maintenance head, received probation in that case.
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.