Bit player in City Hall scheme sentenced to 4 months in prison

A bit player in the corruption scheme that brought down two City Hall technology chiefs, and eventually Mayor Ray Nagin, was sentenced Thursday to four months in federal prison and five months of house arrest.

The sentence U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon imposed on Dwaine Hodges gave Hodges credit for pleading guilty and helping prosecutors convict Hodges’ former boss, Mark St. Pierre, as well as Nagin.

But it was stiffer than Hodges’ family and his attorneys were expecting — especially after Fallon described Hodges as a mere “courier” in a bribery scheme involving St. Pierre and the city’s former chief technology officer, Anthony Jones.

Jones, who admitted taking $22,000 in bribes from St. Pierre that Hodges helped deliver, managed to avoid jail time despite his far more prominent role in the scheme and his arrest on DWI charges between his guilty plea and his sentencing. Jones was sentenced in December to two years of probation by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval.

A group of Hodges’ relatives stood outside the courtroom, stunned, after Fallon’s announcement, with one of them hustling Hodges’ visibly upset wife onto an elevator.

“They lied!” she said as the doors closed.

Mary Olive Pierson, one of Hodges’ attorneys, said she was “disappointed, considering (Hodges’) level of cooperation, which the government agreed to, and everything he has done to rehabilitate himself.”

Hodges has done “hundreds of hours of community service,” said Fred Crifasi, another of his attorneys.

Hodges was a longtime employee of St. Pierre, who had three technology firms that did work for the city: Imagine, NetMethods and Veracent. The companies worked under no-bid contracts awarded by Greg Meffert, whom Nagin named the city’s first-ever chief technology officer.

Meffert eventually pleaded guilty to accepting about $860,000 in bribes from St. Pierre, whose firms collected millions from the city. Meffert and Hodges both testified at St. Pierre’s 2011 bribery trial, which resulted in his conviction on 53 counts. Fallon sentenced St. Pierre to 17½ years in prison.

More recently, Meffert testified at Nagin’s corruption trial, telling jurors that Nagin knew St. Pierre was paying for trips to Hawaii and Jamaica, for cellphone service for Nagin’s sons, and for lawn care at his house.

Hodges was not called upon to testify at Nagin’s trial, but prosecutors said Thursday he cooperated in building the case against Nagin, part of which revolved around allegedly illegal contributions to Nagin’s political campaign from members of St. Pierre’s firms. Nagin was convicted on 20 corruption counts last week.

Before imposing the sentence, Fallon said he believed Hodges’ “knowledge of the overall scheme” was limited, and that he thought Hodges’ testimony was “helpful, complete and reliable.” As a result, the judge said, he was granting the government’s motion for a downward departure from federal sentencing guidelines, which would have called for a sentence of 10 to 16 months in prison.

But, he added, “Public corruption is one of the most heinous crimes, because it is intentional, and it is only done for one reason: to help yourself.”

Corruption in the months and years after Hurricane Katrina was even more troubling, Fallon said, because it was a time when citizens especially needed honest government.