The latest rumor about former Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard is that he has decided to form a prison ministry in anticipation of his conviction on federal criminal charges. He faces several dozen felony counts, including conspiracy, fraud and bribery, among others.
Several of Broussard's friends have told me they heard the "prison ministry" talk from Broussard himself, so it's more than just a rumor. Of course, most of those same friends also shake their heads in wonder when they tell that story. Some of them even wonder if Broussard has lost his senses.
It's not unusual for those who have found the Lord to be accused of insanity. Broussard's well-documented penchant for showing his emotions publicly merely adds a measure of believability to such talk. After all, the other rumor — which I have heard from attorneys who I believe know a thing or two about this case — is that the feds offered Broussard a plea deal that would have let him off with probation ... and he turned it down.
If that's true, the presiding judge should appoint a sanity commission forthwith. After all, you don't have to be an inmate to have a successful prison ministry. Just ask Sister Helen Prejean.
Meanwhile, Broussard's last remaining co-defendant, former Jefferson Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson, proved last week that he's no loon. Wilkinson cut a deal to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit misprision of a felony. In return for his expected testimony against Broussard, the feds are dropping 22 more serious felony counts against him.
Conspiracy to commit misprision ranks among the mildest felonies in the federal law book, judging by the five-year maximum sentence it carries. Misprision itself can get you up to three years. Former parish CAO Tim Whitmer pleaded guilty to misprision in March, proving once again that those who jump on board the federal train first get the best seats.
Wilkinson's decision to hold out this long may cost him a few extra months in the pokey, but chances are he'll do a lot less time than the Rev. Broussard — especially if, as expected, he presents some juicy details of the alleged corruption in the Broussard administration. (Read: incriminating testimony not just against Broussard, but also, potentially, against River Birch owner Fred Heebe.) Wilkinson is expected to enter a guilty plea this week.
Heebe has not been charged with anything ... yet. In fact, in recent months he and his associates have scored a few points against the feds in the run-up to a potential grand jury decision in his case. The feds no doubt would love to turn Broussard as well, and some speculate that they have given the impulsive former pol a deadline by which he can accept the latest deal.
Word has it Broussard is determined to have his day in court — and his prison ministry. Some courthouse observers have compared his damn-the-torpedos posture to the tack taken by former New Orleans City Hall vendor Mark St. Pierre, who likewise stared down several dozen federal felony counts before being convicted on all of them.
If Broussard wants to emulate St. Pierre, he should consider visiting him in jail. St. Pierre is singing a different tune now. In fact, he's singing as much as he can in an effort to get his 17-year sentence reduced.
If nothing else, a visit to St. Pierre might open Broussard's eyes to the fact that while prison may afford an excellent opportunity for someone in search of a ministry, it sure as hell ain't no sanctuary.