The guilty verdict rendered last week against former City Hall vendor Mark St. Pierre sent a thunderous message about the wages of corruption and arrogance. The fact that jurors convicted St. Pierre on all 53 counts should also embolden federal prosecutors in their ongoing investigation into the Nagin Administration — and give future defendants pause.
However, knowing how clueless some people are (need I name names?), let's connect the dots on the lessons the St. Pierre verdict holds for potential defendants.
Herewith the Top 10 Lessons of Mark St. Pierre's Trial:
Lesson No. 10 — Don't tug on Superman's cape. Defendants have limited resources. The feds print money. "Standing up to the government" sounds noble, but arrogance can be as big a mistake as taking bribes.
Lesson No. 9 — Don't talk to the FBI. Remember former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown? He was acquitted of the underlying crime for which he was charged but convicted of lying to the FBI about the alleged crime. He went to jail because he didn't know when to shut up. Obey The Jim Brown Rule: If you even remotely might be in trouble, don't talk to the FBI.
Lesson No. 8 — Don't lie to the FBI. OK, if you're too stupid to obey The Jim Brown Rule, at least be smart enough not to lie to guys who don't let you record your conversations with them. And don't expect your lawyer to save you; Brown's lawyer was with him when he talked to the feds.
Lesson No. 7 — Don't lie to your lawyer. This is the one person you should talk to, and don't hold back. Your lawyer can't betray your trust, but you can betray his by not revealing everything he (or she) needs to know to help you. Eddie Castaing is a good lawyer, but he could do nothing when St. Pierre's other lawyers took the stand and said, "He lied to us."
Lesson No. 6 — Don't use credit cards to bribe public officials. Duh.
Lesson No. 5 — Don't conspire with folks who can't keep their mouths shut. Greg Meffert, who finally admitted taking bribes from St. Pierre, was always known to be a braggart and a blabbermouth. But when he testified against his former business partner, he was humbled, contrite ... and believable.
Lesson No. 4 — Choose your friends wisely. The late Mayor Dutch Morial told me many years ago that in politics, it's not your enemies you have to worry about — it's your friends. "They'll do you in every time," he said. And he was only talking about being embarrassed, not indicted.
Lesson No. 3 — Don't reek of fresh money. Driving to court in a shiny Mercedes to face bribery and corruption charges is not the best way to project a humble, honest image. Nothing against Mercedes (disclosure: my wife drives one), but perceptions matter.
Lesson No. 2 — Take the deal. If you've got unclean hands, come clean and take your lumps. It beats a longer stretch in the pokey. Besides, confession is good for the soul, and people forgive those who genuinely seek forgiveness.
Lesson No. 1 — Don't try to run government like a business. This is a lesson for us all. Businesses are dictatorships; our government is a democracy. The two are not designed to work the same way. The next time you hear some puffed-up businessman saying we should run government like a business, remind him that Greg Meffert and Mark St. Pierre were successful businessmen — and ask him if he likes how they ran things. If nothing else, we now know the danger — and the folly — of running government like a business.