St. Landry official pleads guilty to federal charge

St. Landry Parish School Board member John Miller pleaded guilty Monday to a federal bribery charge for trying to sell his vote for superintendent last year for $5,000.

The plea agreement calls for Miller’s immediate resignation.

Miller, 72, and fellow board member Quincy Richard Sr., 51, both of Opelousas, were accused of asking superintendent candidate Joseph Cassimere for $5,000 each in return for their votes to name him to the post.

A federal grand jury indicted both men on bribery charges last year.

Charges are still pending against Richard, and Miller has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the case.

Miller declined comment on the plea through his attorney, Harold Register Jr.

“This is a positive first step for the School Board to move forward so they can take care of the educational work that needs to be addressed for the children and citizens of this community,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in a written statement.

Cassimere, who cooperated with federal agents, met Miller and Richard at the Quarters Restaurant and Casino in Opelousas on Sept. 24 for an exchange of cash that FBI agents captured on videotape and audiotape, according to the court filings from prosecutors.

FBI agents confronted Miller and Richard as they left the casino “with their vote payoff in hand,” according to the court filings.

Federal prosecutors wrote in court filings that the $5,000 figure had been negotiated down from an initial request from Miller and Richard for $7,500 each.

The bribe was also to secure Miller and Richard’s vote for an inflated superintendent’s salary so Cassimere could recoup his $10,000 bribe, according to court filings from prosecutors.

Cassimere had been serving as interim superintendent and was one of five candidates for the permanent job.

The vote to name the superintendent was originally scheduled for Sept. 26 but was delayed several months after the bribery investigation became public.

The St. Landry Parish School Board last month approved a contract with new school Superintendent Edward Brown, who had been selected May 3 over Cassimere.

Miller did not attend the meeting last month when the new superintendent’s contract was up for a vote. Richard attended and voted to approve the contract with Brown.

U.S. District Judge Richard Haik, who handled Miller’s guilty plea on Monday, told him it was a good decision to bow out of the superintendent selection process, considering the pending criminal charge.

Haik also said Cassimere might have lost his chance to win the superintendent job because he went to federal authorities after being approached for a bribe.

“I do congratulate him for doing the right thing,” the judge said.

Miller faces a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison on the bribery charge.

Miller’s plea comes a few weeks after a state district judge ordered that Richard be removed from office for an unrelated felony conviction on a filing false records charge from 2004.

The charge arose out of an investigation into the buying of grades and degrees at Southern University.

Richard had the charge expunged from the public court record, but according to news reports at the time, he had urged his wife to pay a Southern University official $1,500 for a fake transcript that showed she had obtained a master’s degree needed for teacher’s certification.

Richard was a School Board member at the time of his 2004 conviction and stepped down from that office as part of his plea agreement.

He regained the School Board seat in a 2006 election and was re-elected in 2010.

The conviction drew little attention until St. Landry Parish District Attorney Earl Taylor filed a petition to remove Richard earlier this year after someone filed a complaint questioning whether Richard could legally hold office as a convicted felon.

The state constitution prohibits a convicted felon from running for public office unless he has been granted a governor’s pardon or unless 15 years have passed since the completion of the sentence, but the enforcement of that prohibition depends on someone formally challenging a candidate’s fitness for office.