Sheriff’s ex-staffer pleads guilty

Molenaar admits role in fraud to rig bids, giving kickbacks

A former contractor for Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office is the latest to plead guilty in federal court to a bid-rigging and kickback scheme that involved higher-ups in the sheriff’s administration.

Richard P. Molenaar III, who worked briefly as a $15-per-hour maintenance man for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office before Hurricane Katrina, admitted Wednesday to submitting phony bids for various maintenance and construction work.

The same prosecution has snared two former officials in the office, including John Sens, the brother of Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens, who has long been Gusman’s close friend and political ally.

The fake bids, which often involved Molenaar pitting one of his companies against another, were aimed at getting around competitive bidding rules.

According to the factual basis that Molenaar signed, John Sens awarded him millions of dollars in work from at least 2007 to early 2012. Sens was the sheriff’s purchasing director until he resigned in February, just days before he was charged in the scheme.

Molenaar, 47, has admitted only to certain kickbacks: Giving about $30,000 in cash to Sens, as well as providing a pool valued at $25,000 for a home Sens owns in Waveland, Miss.

The factual basis lists two occasions where bids were rigged, on contracts of $10,000 and $20,000, both in 2010. Contracting documents from the Sheriff’s Office, however, show several other instances where more than one of Molenaar’s companies submitted bids for the same work.

Molenaar admitted he “would routinely submit bids for various OPSO projects and jobs that contained bids from his companies, as well as bids from other companies which were phony or fraudulent,” with the knowledge of Sens “among others,” according to the factual basis.

Molenaar did most or all of the work through three companies he controlled: Ricky’s A/C, Landmark Mechanical, and Custom Carpentry and Renovations.

His attorney, Frank DeSalvo, said Molenaar won “a little over $2 million” in work over the years.

“All of the work was always done, and not all of the contracts had kickbacks in ’em,” DeSalvo said.

Not all of the bids were rigged, either, DeSalvo said.

“It started out as normal business.”

Molenaar, who now lives in Las Cruces, N.M., pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery before U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman.

John Sens and former sheriff’s Col. Gerard Hoffman, who headed the sheriff’s maintenance office, both pleaded guilty in March to the same charge. Hoffman, too, was accused of taking kickbacks.

Molenaar declined to speak to a reporter outside the courtroom following the hearing.

“He’s glad it’s getting over with,” DeSalvo said. “He walked away from the city because he didn’t want to be involved.”

The original bill of information in the case identifies Molenaar only as “Businessman A.” Sources have identified “Businessman B,” the other contractor named in the bill, as John Killeen, who ran a firm called Palmyra Electrical. Killeen was never charged. He died in April.

Molenaar, who listed Gusman as a friend when he applied for the maintenance job just three months before Katrina, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 16. John Sens is scheduled for sentencing July 3. Hoffman’s sentencing is slated for Dec. 19.

Each faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.