Aaron Broussard was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison by Judge Hayden Head today for federal crimes he committed during his tenure as Jefferson Parish president. Former Jefferson Parish attorney Tom Wilkinson and Broussard's ex-wife Karen Parker were each sentenced to three years probation on related charges. Broussard pleaded guilty in September to taking bribes and conspiring with Wilkinson to improperly employ Parker in a job for which she wasn't qualified.
"I accept responsibility for all the the actions for which I pleaded guilty," he said at today's hearing. "I apologize to the people of Jefferson Parish. I brought dishonor to my position. I will pay for my dishonor for the rest of my life."
Broussard accepted $66,000 in bribes from contractor Bill Mack between 2004 and 2007. Mack, who pleaded guilty to bribing Broussard, only received about $40,000 worth of parish contracts in return.
He also pleaded guilty for his involvement in a scheme to falsely employ Parker, then his girlfriend, as a "paralegal supervisor" under Wilkinson beginning in late 2003, shortly before Broussard took office. Parker was never trained as a paralegal nor did she ever perform work as one while she held the title. Nevertheless, she was making nearly $64,00 by 2009. In return for her placement, Wilkinson received thousands of dollars in raises.
Broussard faced a maximum of 15 years for the crimes, a sentence likely cut down because of his clean criminal record and his cooperation. Head, a Texas judge appointed to the Broussard case, further reduced the sentence, citing a number of disagreements with recommendations from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the federal probation office.
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The government recommended sentence enhancements for accepting multiple bribes from Mack. But, Head pointed out, those bribes resulted from a single agreement.
"A bribe paid in a series of installments is one bribe," he said.
Head also struck down an enhancement based on an assertion that he was the organizer of a bribery conspiracy involving five or more people. The deal, the judge said, was strictly between Broussard and Mack.
"It wasn't sophisticated. It wasn't extensive," Head said of the bribery scheme. "It was, for lack of a better term, sophomoric."
Later, during Wilkinson's portion of the hearing, Head repeatedly noted his concern that the federal government, in its claims about Parker's qualifications and propensity to skip work, was coming too close to "imposing itself as an HR department" for municipalities. Wilkinson did not commit a federal crime by agreeing to employ Parker. He committed one by taking money for it. This issue was further complicated when Wilkinson, and his attorney Ralph Whalen, denied that Wilkinson knowingly participated in a financial quid pro quo arrangement.
Asked what, exactly, Wilkinson believed he was guilty of, Whalen responded, "allowing Ms. Parker to be on the payroll when she wasn't qualified for or doing the work."
"So all the people in local government from Maine to Alaska are going to be subject to federal prosecution if they know of someone who's dogging it [at work]?" Head said.
Wilkinson claimed that he believed Parker's arrangement was legal right up until his indictment in 2011.
"This matter, to me, remains foggy," Head said.
Nevertheless, Wilkinson pleaded guilty. Along with his three-year probation, Head gave him primary responsibility for $214,000 in restitution for the salary overpayments. Head ordered him to pay $53,000 immediately and the remainder by the end of his probation. Broussard, who has no income and little savings, is responsible for $500 per month. Wilkinson, who has suspended his legal practice pending a licensure review by the State Bar Association, is prohibited to practice while serving probation, under the sentencing terms Head imposed.
Broussard is scheduled to report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to begin his sentence on April 8. He has requested a placement in the minimum security Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, which, he said, will allow his mother to visit him. Head said did not object to the placement, should the Bureau of Prisons believe the facility is sufficiently secure.