Former LSU lineman pleads guilty to fraud, must pay city $233,000

A former LSU football player who secured lucrative landscaping work in and around Louis Armstrong International Airport will be forced to pay back at least $233,316 to the city as part of his guilty plea this week in a federal mortgage fraud case.

Robert Packnett pleaded guilty Thursday to a single count of bank fraud. His plea deal does not specify why he must pay the money to the city. But a lengthy investigation by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office into various activity at the airport had keyed on Packnett’s work as head of R&P Landscaping and R&P Grass Maintenance. The FBI also was involved.

Packnett received increasingly large contracts over about seven years for mowing, trimming, mulching and other jobs billed to the New Orleans Aviation Board through the end of 2011, invoices show. In 2010, R&P Grass Maintenance did well over $300,000 in work at the airport alone.

Packnett, 47, who played offensive tackle for LSU in the late 1980s, did not admit, however, to any crime related to the airport landscaping work. Rather, he pleaded guilty to a completely unrelated charge stemming from allegations that he overstated his rental income on properties for which he sought mortgages and credit lines.

Under the plea deal, U.S. Attorney Dana Boente’s office agreed not to file any more charges against Packnett related to the case.

Packnett, who lives in New Orleans East, owned seven other residential properties in the city, including five that were vacant from January 2011 to March 2012.

From July 2011 to March 2012, he secured six mortgages, refinanced mortgages and credit lines from First NBC Bank by providing false documents about his investment income, according to the factual basis supporting his guilty plea.

In one case, in which he secured a $256,000 loan on his residence, Packnett claimed more than $10,000 in monthly rental income when he actually made less than $2,000, according to the factual basis.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to discuss the payment that Packnett agreed to make to the city under the plea deal, which only states that he “acknowledges a loss to the city of New Orleans based on his conduct of not less than $233,316.00.”

Packnett is scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Oct. 4. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Attempts to reach Packnett on Friday were unsuccessful. His attorney, Ike Spears, declined to discuss the money owed to the city, saying only: “I think the plea deal speaks for itself. Anything else would just be speculation.”

An official with the Aviation Board declined to respond to questions on Friday about Packnett’s work at the airport, issuing a statement saying, “The Airport has been fully cooperating with the New Orleans Office of Inspector General in its investigation.”

Quatrevaux said the investigation into Packnett’s airport work is now over. “It was all taken into account with the plea agreement,” he said. “We’ve done our job. We offered it to the prosecution and they took it from there.”

He said he wasn’t sure how the feds arrived at the payback figure. Quatrevaux said his office continues to investigate other aspects of the airport operation.