Former Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis, serving jail time for “Operation Blighted Officials,” agreed that he violated state ethics laws but an agreement ending the case exposed him to no penalties.
The Louisiana Board of Ethics agreed to the consent opinion Friday, which took into account that Lewis has to pay $18,000 in restitution and serve federal prison time for racketeering. Lewis is one of six public officials imprisoned as a result of a two-year FBI sting operation.
But two board members warned that such no penalty agreements were not to their liking.
“Just because he paid something to somebody else doesn’t make a lot of difference to me,” said board member Steve Lemke, of New Orleans.
Board member Peppi Bruneau, also of New Orleans, said the case involved an elected official who has abused his office. He noted that other cases are in the pipeline, such as one involving a ticket-fixing scheme in the River Parishes.
“I, for one, in the future am not going to vote to slap somebody on the wrist just because the feds put them in jail,” Bruneau said.
Ethics Board Chairman Blake Monrose, of Lafayette, reminded them that Lewis had already signed the consent opinion which the board had already agreed to. Negotiations ending cases are done behind closed doors. The board action Friday amounted to official public action.
Lemke said he did not recall being involved in any discussion involving the Lewis case.
Bruneau recused himself from voting saying he was not a member of the board when the agreement was made.
Lewis was one of six public officials convicted as a result of a two-year FBI sting, dubbed Operation Blighted Officials. The operation featured undercover investigators who paid bribes to municipal officials for promises of public contracts.
Those contracts would have gone to a garbage-can cleaning service that eventually was revealed to be a fictional firm known as Cifer 5000.
In the consent opinion, Lewis agreed that he accepted $18,990 in cash, tickets and other gifts from Cifer 5000 at a time Cifer 5000 sought a contract with his agency, the city of Port Allen.
The state ethics code bans public servants from receiving things of economic value other than compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which he is entitled for performance of his job and duties. Neither can a public servant assist anyone in a transaction with the governmental entity with which they are employed.
Six officials in White Castle, St. Gabriel, New Roads and Port Allen were convicted as a result of the sting. After pleading guilty, Lewis cooperated with prosecutors.
Lewis was sentenced in June 2012 to 40 months in federal prison for his guilty plea to a charge of racketeering. Lewis also had to repay the federal government $18,990 for cash and other bribes he and former Port Allen Police Chief Fred Smith accepted during the sting.