The former mayor of White Castle, who was accused of illegally reimbursing himself more than $2,000 while in office, will serve three years of probation after pleading no contest Wednesday to a corruption charge.
Gerald Jermarr Williams, 40, was arrested in April for filing false public records, illegal use of a moveable and malfeasance in office following a state investigation into his time in office.
He pleaded no contest to only the malfeasance-in-office charge during a brief afternoon hearing in which he answered mainly yes or no questions. The district attorney’s office agreed to drop the other counts in exchange for a plea to the felony infraction.
“This conviction shows we’re just not going to tolerate this kind of conduct,” District Attorney Tony Clayton said Wednesday. “The good people of White Castle just want (the town) to go back to its glory days.”
The deal allows the embattled ex-mayor to avoid prison but requires him to serve three years on probation. That penalty could drop to a year if Williams pays fines and other fees and doesn’t commit any crimes during that period.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office that found Williams had reimbursed himself $2,233 in late 2017, despite the city’s auditor and attorney saying he shouldn’t have been paid that amount.
An affidavit filed in Williams’ arrest said an auditor told investigators he was “offended” that Williams claimed the payment was allowed.
Williams attempted to pay the money back a year later, even telling state investigators he had done so because he had heard “the town was talking about it,” according to the affidavit.
“If you rob a bank and give the money back, (that) doesn't absolve you from any criminal liability,” Clayton said.
Williams declined to comment as he left the courthouse Wednesday with his attorney, who said he planned to offer a statement at a later date.
Williams’ plea follows a long line of mayors and elected officials who’ve been accused or convicted of corruption in the past decade on the westside.
In 2016, several former mayors in New Roads, Port Allen and St. Gabriel were indicted in a federal corruption probe for accepting cash and other gifts.
Among those officials: former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson, who was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison after authorities say he accepted more than $22,000 in cash and other gifts during an FBI sting of a fictitious garbage can-cleaning company.
State investigators began looking into White Castle’s finances last September when they discovered multiple potential infractions, including the payment to which Williams ultimately pleaded no contest, prosecutors said.
Even before that, Williams found himself at the center of scrutiny midway through his second term.
The ex-mayor came under fire from political rivals who questioned how his salary jumped from $28,000 to $50,835 in 2015 through a series of Board of Aldermen votes. At the time, the town’s attorney and Williams defended the raises, saying they fell within legal parameters for Louisiana municipalities.
By pleading no contest to malfeasance, Williams is barred from holding public office in Louisiana ever again.