Craig Taffaro, the recently retired chief deputy to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, was charged in federal court Thursday with tax evasion and filing a false tax return.
The charges against the veteran lawman were returned by a grand jury, usually a sign that a defendant intends to fight the case, and Taffaro's attorney, Mike Magner, confirmed in a strongly worded statement that he will.
The indictment accuses Taffaro of improperly ducking some of his tax liability in a single tax year — 2009 — but does not say how much the government believes he avoided paying. The indictment says only that he gave a tax preparer "false and incomplete information," including "exaggerated" business expenses.
Sources with knowledge of the case said the amount Taffaro is accused of failing to pay is less than $5,000, and that the expenses were associated with a business Taffaro and Normand formed together shortly after Normand was elected sheriff in 2007.
The two men each own a 50 percent share in the business, CTNN Enterprise LLC. Its name is an amalgamation of their initials.
The business receives sales commissions on food and other items purchased by Harvey Gulf, a major oilfield-services firm run and partly owned by the politically active businessman Shane Guidry. The items are actually supplied by yet another firm, Pelican Marine.
Normand has reported income of between $25,000 and $100,000 from the business each year on his financial disclosure forms.
Normand has said that he has always paid all of his taxes due on that income, and that while he was interviewed in connection with the case against Taffaro, he is not a target.
Sources close to the case have confirmed to The Advocate that it centered on Taffaro’s potential tax issues related to the business, which is not mentioned by name or even described in the indictment.
In addition to being a business partner of Normand’s, Taffaro is the father-in-law of Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. Taffaro for a time managed a blind trust of Nungesser's assets that Nungesser set up when he became Plaquemines Parish president in 2006.
Nungesser during that time held a large stake in Pelican Marine, the company that now pays Taffaro and Normand their commissions. Pelican's current owners bought the firm in 2012.
Taffaro, who turned 70 on Thursday, retired from the Sheriff’s Office in June as the federal inquiry neared its conclusion.
His career in local law enforcement, which also included stints with the Gretna Police Department and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, began in 1968. At the time of his retirement, Taffaro was earning $136,836, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Magner issued a statement Thursday lamenting the feds’ decision to target his client, saying the matter should be at most a “civil tax dispute.”
“Chief Craig Taffaro spent 52 years honorably serving his country and his community, beginning with the U.S. Army and continuing to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, where he served with distinction as chief deputy,” Magner said. “Chief Taffaro made the JPSO Patrol Division one of the finest law enforcement organizations in the Southeast, with a record of responding to every emergency call in five minutes or less."
Magner said the IRS "has chosen to take a small civil tax dispute and turn it into a federal criminal tax prosecution for reasons known only to them. He is innocent of these charges, and we fully expect he will be vindicated at trial.”
Taffaro is due to be arraigned in federal court July 28. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman.
Editor's note: This story was updated July 20 to correct the number of charges Taffaro faces.