La. Rep. Girod Jackson charged with tax fraud

State Rep. Girod Jackson III, the Harvey Democrat whose bankrupt construction company has been at the center of several inquiries into conflicts of interest and improper billing, was charged by federal prosecutors Thursday with a felony count of lying on a tax return and misdemeanor counts of willfully failing to file two others.

Later in the day, Jackson resigned from the Legislature and issued a statement expressing regret about “accounting errors and oversight” when he underestimated the 2006 income of his Marrero company by a half-a-million dollars.

Jackson was charged by acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente’s office in a bill of information, which typically means a defendant is cooperating with the government and will plead guilty.

Prosecutors allege Jackson claimed on his 2006 tax return that his company, Diversified Ventures, made only $108,000 when in fact it brought in about $600,000.

Jackson filed jointly with his wife, who was not charged, and received a refund that year of $185. The IRS says he actually owed about $79,486.

As for the two misdemeanor charges, prosecutors allege Jackson didn’t file his 2007 return until November 2011, and didn’t file his 2008 return at all.

On the 2007 return, prosecutors allege, Jackson claimed Diversified Ventures had income of only $113,000 when it actually made more than $436,000 through public and private contracts.

Prosecutors say Diversified Ventures made $423,000 in 2008, and Jackson pulled in $142,999, which included $37,806 from his salary as a state rep.

If convicted, Jackson faces up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine for the felony count and up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for the misdemeanor charges. The investigation was led by the IRS and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Friel.

Jackson and his firm have been named in a number of probes, reports and investigations in recent years.

Starting before Jackson was elected in 2007, Diversified Ventures had contracts with two nonprofits that the state legislative auditor found were being used to enrich family members of former Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron Lee, according to a report from WWL-TV. Lee and Jackson are political allies,

One of them, the Jefferson Sports and Scholastic Foundation, had a $100,000 contract with Diversified Ventures for work that the foundation said was not done. The other, Jefferson Community Health Care Centers, had a contract with Diversified Ventures; the auditor found problems with how the company billed the parish.

Diversified Ventures’ address in Gretna was found to be an office occupied by a construction company owned by Lee’s brother-in-law.

Last year, Diversified Ventures came up again in a report by Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general. That report found a $91,218 contract the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority had given Diversified Ventures represented a conflict of interest because Jackson was an elected official and ordered it to be repaid.

And this summer, a WWL-TV investigation found Jackson was billing the state’s Road Home program for work rehabilitating rental homes on 57 of the 58 days he was working at the Legislature.

To top it off, a Kenner family last month won a $65,000 suit against Jackson and his company in arbitration over shoddy work and delays. But later that month, the company declared bankruptcy — on the same day Jackson was scheduled to appear in court to explain why he hadn’t yet paid the family.

The Chapter 7 filing says Diversified owes $150,000 to the IRS and $15,000 to the state, along with $114,500 in unsecured claims, including about $50,000 to Chase and Regions banks, $55,000 to the Kenner family and $10,000 to Jackson himself, likely related to the $65,000 judgment.

The filing said Diversified has no real estate and only $50 in a checking account, even though it has made $99,000 so far this year and $50,000 in 2011 and 2012 combined.

On Thursday, Jackson pledged to spend the rest of his life working to regain the public trust. His resignation, he said, “was a hard decision to make, but I am fully focused on moving forward and doing what is right for my family and the people of District 87. I hope, in time, I will not be defined solely by my personal mistakes.”

Rep. Katrina Jackson, chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, issued a statement saying Jackson “served the constituents and the LLBC with a spirit of hard work and compassion for the people.”

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he is working with the Secretary of State’s Office to find a date for an election to fill Jackson’s seat.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Aug. 23, 2013 to reflect that the 2008 income of Girod Jackson and Diversified Ventures was estimated by the federal government, not a claim Jackson made on a tax return. Jackson did not file a return in 2008.