Jerry Ursin, former No. 2 in Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office, charged in detail fraud scheme _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Sheriff Marlin Gusman right and Jerry Ursin on left. 

The former chief deputy of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office avoided prison time Thursday, instead receiving three years of probation for defrauding local businesses that hired off-duty deputies to work security at special events. 

Gerald "Jerry" Ursin, a veteran lawman who served as second-in-command to Sheriff Marlin Gusman, offered a tearful apology to his wife and family, asking U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon to spare him a prison sentence so he can continue caring for his elderly mother. 

"I was trying to set an example for my kids, and I know I let them down," Ursin told the judge. "I accept full responsibility for my actions." 

Ursin pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud, admitting he pocketed nearly $3,000 and conspired with another high-ranking Sheriff's Office official, Roy Austin, to overbill Mardi Gras krewes, music festivals and other businesses for the work of "ghost" employees who never actually worked any security details.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Ursin faced between six months and a year behind bars. But Fallon appeared moved by the numerous character letters he received on Ursin's behalf.

Fallon attributed the lenient sentence, known in federal court as a downward variance, to Ursin's medical condition, lack of prior criminal history and the fact that he no longer holds a position of trust that he could use to swindle more money.  

"I feel you've gotten the message loud and clear," Fallon said. 

A polarizing figure in Gusman's administration, Ursin stepped down last year in the wake of a scathing state Legislative Auditor's Office report that outlined the off-duty detail scheme.

The auditors, who investigated the case along with the FBI, focused in large part on Austin's organization of off-duty details through a private company known as Austin Sales and Service. That business was found to have inflated invoices for security services provided to major sporting events and festivals over several years, including the 2013 Super Bowl. 

Gusman has denied having any knowledge of the scheme.

Austin, who admitted stealing at least $83,000, was sentenced last year to six months in federal prison and six months of home confinement. 

For his part, Ursin acknowledged directing family members to endorse checks from Austin that prosecutors said had been made "under the fraudulent guise of payments for detail work."

Ursin's defense attorney, Pat Fanning, told the judge that the thefts had been "completely out of character" for Ursin. 

"I know Jerry is a big tough cop," Fanning said. "But when he comes to my office, he sits there and cries." 

Ursin was a former high-ranking officer in the New Orleans Police Department, but he retired from the force in 2003 while facing an allegation that he had lied about having an undergraduate degree.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.