Former Jefferson Parish Chief Administrative Officer Tim Whitmer today pleaded guilty to one count of misprision (concealment) of a felony in U.S. District Court.
Whitmer, who was charged in a January bill of information, has taken a plea deal, agreeing to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the ongoing prosecution of Whitmer's ex-boss — former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard — in exchange for the light charge. As part of his deal, Whitmer will not face any additional charges related to the Broussard case.
Whitmer faces up to three years in prison for the misprision charge. U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon has set a sentencing date of June 28.
During the hearing, Whitmer's attorney Patrick Fanning brought up the recent controversy surrounding Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, who last week confessed to posting comments — some involving cases under investigation or prosecution by his own office — on Nola.com. Perricone has resigned his position.
"I've discussed with my client any rights he might have because of that," Fanning said, including whether to file a motion claiming prosecutorial misconduct. But Whitmer, on Fanning's advice, decided against it. "Both Mr. Whitmer and I agree he was treated very fairly."
In a press conference after the hearing, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said that he doesn't believe the Perricone situation will have an adverse effect on any current or future corruption case against former Jefferson Parish officials or contractors.
"The gentlemen you see here, right here, are the lead attorneys on this case," Letten said. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Klebba, Gregory Kennedy and Matt Chester are prosecuting Whitmer, though Perricone's name also appeared on the bill of information. Letten said Perricone was less important to the office than media reports have suggested. "He was not our lead attorney ... He did not have anyone working under him."
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The government believes that Broussard, acting with ex-parish attorney Tom Wilkinson, conspired in 2003 to hire Broussard's then-girlfriend (now ex-wife) Karen Parker as paralegal supervisor for the parish, despite the fact that Parker was not qualified as a paralegal and never worked as one during her nearly seven year tenure. In return for arranging for the hire, and subsequently giving Parker several raises, prosecutors allege that Wilkinson's salary was also raised several times.
Parker has also pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal investigators. Broussard and Wilkinson pleaded not guilty to 38 corruption counts in February. Broussard's trial was originally scheduled to begin in May, but that might be delayed as a result of a recent cancer diagnosis, The Times-Picayune reported today.
"My client had no supervisory authority, no hiring authority. He couldn't have stopped it," Fanning said after the hearing.
Asked why Whitmer, who has acknowledged that he knew about the alleged conspiracy, didn't inform federal authorities, Fanning suggested that he was trying to protect his career.
"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."
According to the factual basis prepared for today's hearing, the scheme was planned in a secret meeting that took place between Broussard, Wilkinson, Whitmer and "one other high-ranking Jefferson Parish official" on October 4, 2003.
Letten would not name the other official nor say whether he or she will be facing charges as well. He also declined to shed light on another detail in the document, claiming that Broussard "directed Whitmer to do whatever he could to steer Jefferson Parish business" to a contractor referred to as "Company A." Company A paid Broussard about $40,000 in consulting fees during his tenure as parish president, the factual basis says, and Broussard had officially recused himself from any business dealings involving the unnamed contractor.
Both Fanning and Letten said there was still more to the case than is laid out in the factual basis.
"Are we not telling you guys what we're telling the government? That's safe to say," Fanning said.