2 ex-Orleans sheriff’s officials charged

Two former high-ranking officials at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office were each charged today with a single felony count of conspiring to commit bribery for their role in an alleged bid-rigging scheme at the Orleans Parish jail complex.

Former purchasing director John Sens and former maintenance chief Col. Gerard Hoffman Jr. were identified in two bills of information filed in federal court Tuesday morning. They have agreed to cooperate with government prosecutors, the documents indicated.

The government charged that between 2007 and 2011, Sens, Hoffman and two unidentified businessmen “engaged in a rigged bidding process in which real bids would be submitted, along with phony bids, to give the appearance of competition.”

The fake bids, being higher, made the bids submitted by the corrupt companies appear favorable, the government said.

The bid-rigging was done with the knowledge and apparent blessing of Sens and Hoffman, each of whom was rewarded with cash and other gifts, the government said.

The bills of information did not identify “Businessman A” or “Businessman B,” the individuals in charge of the allegedly corrupt companies, but indicated that the former had “various corporations” doing work at the jail; the latter is reported to have done electrical work. The government’s filings today said that the contract-steering scandal added up to millions of dollars in billings for the two businessmen over a period of about five years.

Sens was reassigned by Sheriff Marlin Gusman last summer as news of the federal probe broke. He resigned from the jail Friday.

“The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has cooperated with every request made of us with the authorities in this case. We will continue to cooperate fully,” Gusman’s spokesman Marc Ehrhardt said Tuesday.

Sens’ attorney, Brian Capitelli, said, “We’ll be entering a plea and, pursuant to our plea agreement, we’ll be cooperating with the federal government.”

Gusman brought in Sens in 2005 after he was first elected sheriff. John Sens is the brother of Judge Paul Sens, a close friend of Marlin Gusman, whose wife was given a job by Gusman. Hoffman had been employed at the jail since 1976.

Gusman is expected to appear before the New Orleans City Council’s criminal justice committee Wednesday afternoon to update the council on progress being made on construction of a new jail.

The long-anticipated bills of information indicated that Sens and Hoffman have agreed to cooperate with the federal government in a deal that spares them jail time but leaves them on the hook for monetary damages.

The bill of information shows that Sens and Hoffman admitted accepting gifts and cash in exchange for steering contracts in the direction of the favored vendors:

Businessman B is reported to have rewarded John Sens with five Blue Dog prints by Cajun artist George Rodrigue, purchased for about $4,000. The prints were “in exchange for the official acts Sens was undertaking to steer Businessman B OPSO work,” the government alleges.

Businessman A “paid for the digging, installation, and finishing of a pool at Sens’ house in Waveland, Mississippi.” That work is estimated to have been worth $25,000.

Businessman A gave Sens $30,000 in cash from 2008 to 2011.

Businessman B did free electrical work at Hoffman’s house valued at $2,500.

Businessman B provided Hoffman with a storage container and trailer valued at $5,000.

Under the terms of their deal, Sens and Hoffman are each required to make restitution of at least $67,903.25.

“The government provides notice of its intent to seek a personal money judgment against the defendants in the amount of fraudulently-obtained proceeds” and will seize any available assets to fulfill the restitution requirement, the bills of information stated.

This story is published in cooperation with the Internet news site The Lens, https://www.thelensnola.org