A veteran lawman who served as Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s second-in-command pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges he defrauded local businesses that hired off-duty Sheriff’s Office deputies to provide security at special events.
But a brief hearing in federal magistrate court amounted to little more than a formality, as an attorney for former Chief Deputy Gerald “Jerry” Ursin confirmed his client will plead guilty in the wire fraud case in the coming weeks.
Prosecutors charged Ursin last month in a bill of information rather than an indictment, which almost invariably indicates a defendant intends to plead guilty.
“We don’t have a date yet” for that proceeding, the attorney, Patrick Fanning, said after the hearing.
Fanning declined to comment further on the case and would not discuss his client’s cooperation with federal authorities. He previously has that Ursin, also a former high-ranking officer in the New Orleans Police Department, “made a mistake that he has accepted responsibility for.”
Ursin is accused of conspiring with another top Gusman aide, Roy Austin, a former Sheriff’s Office colonel who organized security details through his private company, Austin Sales and Service. He pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the same felony charge Ursin faces.
Austin, the lead player in the scheme, admitted to inflating invoices by charging Mardi Gras krewes, music festival organizers and local businesses for the work of “ghost” deputies who were paid but did not work security details for them. He pocketed at least $83,000 in bogus charges, though state auditors have suggested the actual amount was substantially more.
According to court records, Austin shared some of the illicit money with Ursin by drafting checks made out to Ursin’s relatives “under the fraudulent guise of payments for detail work.” Ursin is accused of having his family members “endorse the checks for subsequent deposit.”
Ursin’s bill of information outlines more than a half-dozen instances between 2010 and 2013 in which he accepted checks through relatives in this fashion — payments that totaled $2,775.
Austin faces up to five years behind bars at his sentencing, which is scheduled for next month. Austin’s attorneys this week asked U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt to postpone that hearing for three months, saying the outcome of Ursin’s proceedings “may affect material issues” in Austin’s case.