NEW ORLEANS -- Jiff Hingle, who for two decades served as the top lawman in Plaquemines Parish before being forced to resign while he faced charges of bribery and mail fraud, died Tuesday. He was 66.
Hingle was being treated for cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center but died following complications from pneumonia, said Retired state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Michael E. Kirby, a family friend
Hingle was Plaquemines Parish sheriff from 1992 to 2011.
He was sentenced in 2013 to 46 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
He pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Aaron Bennett, whose company, Benetch LLC, oversaw the construction of a new parish jail after Hurricane Katrina. He later cooperated with federal investigators and wore a wire to catch Bennett in the act of offering him a third bribe of $10,000 in 2011.
Then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten gave credit to Hingle for helping agents catch Bennett in his scheme.
Hingle admitted he received two $10,000 payments from Bennett in 2008. Those payments came once he greenlighted hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to Benetech, which oversaw the building of a temporary parish jail and the new, permanent jail.
He also admitted that he was reimbursed nearly $150,000 from his campaign for expenses that were for the Sheriff’s Office or personal use. He mailed falsified campaign-finance reports, which led to the fraud charge.
While his career ended under a cloud, those who knew him recalled a man who for years led a department through some of its most challenging struggles, all while advocating for his deputies and the parish.
“He was sheriff during some very difficult times, including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike,” said current Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Gerald A. Turlich Jr. “What stands out to me was in the aftermath of Katrina, during all of the chaos and destruction, Jiff was a pillar of strength as sheriff.
“He locked down the parish, maintained security and kept all of our homes and constituents safe,” Turlich continued. “Our constituents will be forever grateful.”
Kirby said Hingle “strove to provide better pay, better benefits for the employees of the sheriff's office.”
He said Hingle also surrounded himself with “good, high quality administrators” and continuously fought for proper funding for the Sheriff’s Office.
“He spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C., lobbying for grants and assistance from the federal authorities, as well as from the state,” Kirby said.
Kirby recalled that Hingle was on an airboat in the days after Katrina and rescued many people, including more than a dozen who were stranded in the choir loft of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Port Sulphur.
“Of course we all know at the end of his tenure, he had that problem with the law itself and I think that was really something brought about by all the turmoil of Hurricane Katrina,” Kirby said. “It was completely out of character, but everybody's world got turned upside down and I think his did, too.”
Kirby said that just before Thanksgiving, Hingle fainted at his home and was rushed to a hospital where doctors diagnosed him with cancer that apparently had spread from his lungs. He was being evaluated on Jan. 4 when he developed his illness, Kirby said, and was put into the intensive care unit.
“I think people in Plaquemines will remember Jiff Hingle for all the good he did,” Kirby said. “They're not going to forget that.”