Former New Orleans City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt is trying to block a bid by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to garnish her retirement benefits while she serves a four-year prison term for racketeering, saying her ailing mother depends on the monthly payments.
Federal prosecutors, pointing to the $688,544 Gill Pratt has been ordered to pay in restitution, filed court papers last week seeking to garnish up to 25 percent of her disposable earnings from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana. Gill Pratt, a former teacher and state legislator, receives a monthly pension of about $1,500, according to court documents.
Defense attorney Mike Fawer filed a motion this week asking U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle to put Gill Pratt’s restitution payments on hold until she’s released from prison.
Gill Pratt began serving a 50-month sentence this month at a minimum-security federal prison camp in Marianna, Florida.
Fawer contends that garnishing 25 percent of Gill Pratt’s benefits — roughly $375 a month — would “severely impact” her ability to care for her 85-year-old mother, who he said suffers from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems.
Fawer said the vast majority of Gill Pratt’s expenses while she is in prison involve the care of her mother and maintaining the home on Toledano Street where she lives. Medicare covers her daytime sitters, the documents say, but not her afterhours caretakers.
The garnishment proceedings are not the first time Gill Pratt has sought a reprieve from punishment in light of her mother’s condition. At her resentencing this year, she cited her mother’s health in beseeching Lemelle for leniency, a request that met vigorous opposition from Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Harper. The prosecutor said Gill Pratt is no different from any other convict “with regard to the collateral damage that’s caused by their engaging in criminal conduct.”
“There are family members who have to pick up the ball,” Harper said at the time.
Gill Pratt, 60, was convicted in 2011 for her role in a scheme to steer taxpayer money to a string of charities controlled by the political organization headed by disgraced former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson. Prosecutors said Gill Pratt knew the organizations were shams and that the public money would be pilfered by her allies in the Jefferson political clan.
Gill Pratt initially was sentenced to seven years in prison but received a reduced sentence this year after a federal appeals court found Lemelle miscalculated the federal sentencing guidelines in the case. As part of her sentence, Lemelle ordered Gill Pratt pay $571,408.52 restitution to the state of Louisiana and $117,035.48 to the city of New Orleans.
Fawer has appealed Lemelle’s recent refusal to grant Gill Pratt a new trial. The defense attorney claims Gill Pratt’s proceedings were tainted by former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, who posted disparaging comments about Gill Pratt online during her trial.
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