Former Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) member Ira Thomas, a retired New Orleans police lieutenant and former chief of security at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO), will graduate from SUNO May 9 with a master's degree in criminal justice — and a 4.0 grade point average. Four days later, Thomas tells Gambit, he will take "full responsibility" for his criminal actions when he appears before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to enter his expected guilty plea to a federal corruption charge.
Thomas, 56, was charged in a bill of information March 6 with conspiracy to commit federal bribery and wire services fraud. The government alleged that from September 2013 to January 2015, Thomas and others were part of a scheme in which Thomas used his elective office as a school board member to provide favorable treatment for a janitorial services contract in exchange for $5,000 "disguised" as a campaign contribution to his campaign for Orleans Parish sheriff in 2014. Thomas finished third in that race.
Thomas described a life of "challenges and controversies," beginning as one of 13 children growing up in the Desire housing project. An outspoken cop, Thomas denounced police brutality and alleged racial inequities on the force and was commended for helping save the life of a man who was trying to jump to his death from the Galvez Street overpass in 1997.
In 2001, he was elected president of the Black Organization of Police (BOP) at a time when the NOPD saw a majority-black force for the first time since Reconstruction. Thomas retired from NOPD as a lieutenant two years later and became chief of security for Orleans Parish public schools. He was fired in 2005, and ascribed his dismissal to "politics." In 2008, he ran for an OPSB seat and won.
"I have served this community for more than 35 years," Thomas told Gambit. "I have championed the right causes for our community, for the Police Department and for the school board to make sure children receive a quality education. In this particular challenge, I take full responsibility as I have always taken full responsibility. I will create a positive outcome by continuing to serve this community, the children and to champion other important causes that are larger than myself."
After the disposition of his case, Thomas says, he hopes "to teach in this community one day."