Reporter David Hammer at the Times-Picayune has this look at the plea deal by a former New Orleans technology official who had been recruited from the public sector. You might ask: why does some one plead guilty when they might initially be convinced that they have valid defenses to white collar criminal charges? Well, for one thing, being guilty is a significant motivator; but, there are other considerations as this story clearly reminds us:
"Former New Orleans city technology chief Greg Meffert, who barged into City Hall from the private sector eight years ago and quickly established himself as the brash face of reform in Mayor Ray Nagin's nascent administration, could muster only a whisper in federal court Monday as he pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from a former city vendor.
Meffert pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bribery and one count of filing a false income tax return. Asked what had precipitated the change of heart from Meffert after he had dug in his heels for a trial set to start in January, Meffert's lawyer Randy Smith said: 'It is what it is. Sometimes a man just has to step up. He does have two kids to consider that he and his wife are trying to raise in San Antonio. He is a humbled man.' [emphasis supplied]
As part of his plea, Meffert signed a statement admitting he steered roughly $4 million in no-bid city work to city contractor Mark St. Pierre -- who had once worked for Meffert in the private sector -- and accepted more than $860,000 in bribes and kickbacks in return.Meffert also "agreed to fully cooperate and provide truthful testimony when called upon," U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.
Meffert's wife, Linda, who was also charged in the conspiracy, has agreed to complete a pretrial diversion program. She will remain free on bail, allowing her to continue raising the couple's two teenagers; the charges against her will be dropped, provided she joins her husband in giving information to prosecutors, Letten said. [emphasis supplied]
It starts with a yacht
Meffert's business dealings first came under scrutiny in 2006, when The Times-Picayune reported that Meffert often used, and claimed to own, a 57-foot yacht, the Silicon Bayou, that public records showed was actually the property of St. Pierre and other technology employees. The city's inspector general issued a scathing report on the city's purchase and oversight of a system of crime cameras, many of which were provided by a St. Pierre-owned firm. That report helped spark the federal investigation, Letten said, praising the city office for its help. About six months after the inspector general's investigation was made public, a grand jury charged Meffert, his wife and St. Pierre with conspiracy, bribery and public corruption in a sweeping 63-count federal indictment.
'It is a new day in New Orleans,' said inspector general Ed Quatrevaux, who joined Letten on Monday at a news conference announcing the plea deal. Meffert, dressed in a dark suit, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon. When asked by Fallon if he was pleading guilty because he was in fact guilty, Meffert said in a barely audible voice: 'Yes, sir.'
Mark St. Pierre's lawyer, Eddie Castaing, said, 'It's apparent that Greg Meffert decided to enter this plea to protect his wife from facing a criminal trial, and he did the honorable thing in admitting to these charges so she could be set free to take care of their children.'"
It's probably too easy to not have a whit of sympathy for Greg Meffert, after all, he's just another hustler. Then again, there is an arbitrary and capricious quality in White Collar prosecutions. We laud, honor, esteem successful scoundrels who are able to turn networking, and contacts into business. We claim to want to attract successful business and entrepreneurial types into public service. Then we act astonished when these men and women continue their entrepreneurial practices and lifestyles while "in office."
I am not saying that happened in the Meffert prosecution. I know less than nothing about the underlying story. What I am saying is that it seem to me that the rules have changed. As a young man I sat in endless seminars encouraging me to "network," don't buy into "limitations," and so forth. When I became a lawyer, we were in a previous recession. An Associate Justice of the OurState Supreme Court speaking at our swearing in, exhorted we newly-minted young lawyers to go out there and just do it. He told us to be fearless, to invent our way as we went along, be "game changers." Um, didn't work for me.
So the music stopped and some got a seat, some didn't. Some paid, some paid all.
Obviously, what I related to was the familial peril Meffert found himself in as it related to the prosecution of his wife and the subsequent impact upon his children. Did Meffert create the peril, seems so. But, I relate. No excuses, I relate. No yacht, but I relate.