The median household income in Jefferson Parish between 2013 and 2017 was just shy of $51,000, according to U.S. Census figures. As an at-large Parish Councilman until late last month, Chris Roberts made more than twice that, $112,000.
A lengthy new federal indictment suggests it wasn’t anywhere close to enough for Roberts, who spent more than 20 of his 41 years in public office yet appears to have devoted an extraordinary amount of energy to wheeling and dealing on the side.
For an elected official, having side businesses isn’t illegal or even unusual. But the breadth of Roberts’ outside interests, and the scope of his allegedly bad behavior, are.
The good news for taxpayers is that the feds did not charge Roberts with straight-up public corruption. There are no allegations that he traded votes for money or favors.
What there appears to be is a lengthy trail of dishonesty and sleaze. Roberts allegedly skimmed from a landscape business he managed and his campaign accounts at will, whether it was to buy a $16,000 engagement ring or to support his personal business endeavors. Twenty-one of the 29 counts listed date to his time running Dan’s Landscaping, which he took over after the owner died and his widow took over. Other side businesses included a community newspaper, fireworks and snowball stands, an ice cream shop, a photography business, a consulting firm and wholesaler of Carnival merchandise.
The charging document also outlines an astonishing level of tax evasion. Roberts is accused of hiding more than $1 million in income from the IRS, which cut his tax bill by tens of thousands of dollars.
The takeaway here is that, no matter whether he acted badly in his official role, this is not a guy who should be in charge of the public’s money.
I certainly wouldn’t want him anywhere near mine.