Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle, who resigned in early October, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court this morning to accepting two bribes from contractor Aaron Bennett — CEO of Benetech — in 2008, as well as conspiracy to commit mail fraud for falsely reporting more than $100,000 in campaign expenditures in 2009.
Hingle, who faces up to five years in prison for his crimes, accepted a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office. Under the terms of the deal, Hingle will not face any additional corruption charges for his conduct while in office. Judge Sarah Vance today said she would defer her decision on accepting the deal until she sees a pre-sentencing report. Vance set Hingle's sentencing hearing for March 7.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said that prosecuting law enforcement officials with whom he has partnered on investigations in the past is "really tough" for him and his staff.
"This is not something we enjoy," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten during a press conference after the hearing. "We saw [Hingle] in the hallway, and he apologized to us. But we're not the ones who need his apology. The citizens need his apology."
(Video of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's press conference after the jump)
Video of Letten's press conference:
Bennett paid Hingle three bribes — $10,000 apiece — two in 2008 and one earlier this year, in exchange for Hingle signing off on Benetech invoices — worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — for federally funded disaster recovery work. Hingle, however, was only charged with accepting the 2008 bribes. Letten confirmed that Hingle was working with federal investigators when he accepted the third bribe.
Letten said it was unclear whether Benetech had actually performed the work for which it charged Plaquemines Parish. What investigators could determine was that Bennett was paying Hingle off to bypass government scrutiny on the invoices.
"That's just the way Aaron Bennett did business. And he will pay for it dearly," Letten said. He added that investigations into Bennett's dealings are ongoing. Bennett is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 22.
Read federal prosecutors' factual basis for the charges against Hingle (5 page PDF): irvin_jiff_hingle.pdf