Opelousas housing employee gets probation in fraud case

Updated at 3:18 p.m. A former employee of the Opelousas Housing Authority was sentenced to two years of probation Friday in a federal investigation of bid-rigging that also snagged the former director and a local contractor.

Garnette L. Thomas, 76, the Housing Authority’s former grant and capital funds coordinator, pleaded guilty last year to fraud charges.

Thomas faced 10 to 16 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote said she opted for probation because of Thomas’ age, her cooperation with investigators and her lack of a criminal record.

Foote also fined Thomas $5,000, ordering that it be paid within 10 days.

Thomas made only a brief statement before the sentencing: “Your honor, I’m very sorry.”

Former Opelousas Housing Authority Director Walter O. Guillory was sentenced in June to 28 months in prison, and Duson businessman Kendall T. Anderson is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in April to misprision of a felony for not reporting the scheme to steer contracts to his construction company, Anderson Iron Works.

Federal prosecutors said that from 2007 to 2009, the Housing Authority ignored policies that required competitive bidding on construction projects and awarded much of the work to Anderson’s company.

The criminal charges stemmed from the cover-up.

Guillory, concerned about a possible audit, told Thomas in June 2009 to review all the old files for construction contracts out of concern about a lack of documentation showing bid guidelines were followed, according to an outline of the case filed by federal prosecutor Kelly Uebinger.

Prosecutors said Thomas, with Anderson’s help, created phony proposals using letterheads from companies that had not actually bid on the work to make it appear the Housing Authority had sought competitive bids for all the contracts.

Guillory served as director of the Opelousas Housing Authority from 2005 to 2009 and served at the same time in a dual role as director of the Lafayette Housing Authority.

He resigned from the Lafayette position in 2010 following a state audit that found widespread accounting problems and questionable expenses.

Federal prosecutors charged him in the criminal case last year.

Guillory pleaded guilty in February to wire fraud for signing off on the questionable no-bid contracts, as well as a separate bribery charge for asking businesses that worked with the two housing authorities to make annual donations to a youth baseball team he sponsored.

The donations totaled more than $100,000 from 2006 to 2010, and Guillory kept some of the cash for himself, though prosecutors said the precise amount is not known.

“A lot of the money was in cash, so it’s impossible to trace,” Uebinger said during Guillory’s February plea hearing

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over management of the LHA in 2011, dissolving the local board that once managed the agency.