Former Jefferson Parish Chief Administrative Officer Tim Whitmer pleaded guilty last Thursday, March 22, to one federal count of misprision, or concealment, of a felony. Whitmer has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the ongoing case against Whitmer's ex-boss, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, in exchange for the reduced charge. As part of his plea deal, Whitmer will not face any additional charges related to the Broussard case.
Others are implicated in the widening federal inquiry into Jefferson Parish government. Broussard's lone remaining co-defendant is former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson. However, the factual basis that was introduced as part of Whitmer's plea refers to "one other high-ranking Jefferson Parish official" who allegedly knew about and helped hatch the scheme in October 2003 to give Broussard's then-future wife, Karen Parker, a job for which she was not qualified. Broussard and Parker married in May 2004. Parker has already pleaded guilty to misprision and is cooperating with the feds.
In return for arranging for Parker's position — at a higher rate of pay — and for subsequently giving Parker several raises, prosecutors allege that Broussard raised Wilkinson's salary several times.
Asked why his client didn't report the alleged conspiracy to authorities, Whitmer's attorney, Pat Fanning, said Whitmer was trying to keep his own job. "The guy had 25 years in parish government. He was working toward retirement, so what are you going to do?" Fanning said. "He made a bad decision."
Fanning also took time in court to tell U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon that the recent revelations about former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone did not affect Whitmer's decision to plead guilty. Fanning noted in court and afterwards that his client would have had a very difficult time showing a connection to his own decision to plead guilty and Perricone's anonymous online rants, several of which disparaged Whitmer. After his plea was accepted, Whitmer shook hands with federal prosecutors.
Broussard, who recently was diagnosed with cancer, and Wilkinson have both pleaded not guilty to 38 counts of conspiracy, fraud and theft of programs receiving federal funding.
In a press conference after the hearing, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten would not name the other parish official implicated in the factual basis, but a state legislative auditor's report in 2010 identified the official as former Parish President Tim Coulon. Letten would not say whether the unnamed official will face charges.
Letten also declined to shed light on another detail in the factual basis, which stated that Broussard "directed Whitmer to do whatever he could to steer Jefferson Parish business" to a contractor referred to as "Company A," which had paid roughly $40,000 in consulting fees to Broussard.
Whitmer faces up to three years in prison for the misprision charge. Sentencing is set for June 28, though it is likely to be postponed as Whitmer cooperates with prosecutors. — Charles Maldonado