NEW ORLEANS -- The seeds of Aaron Broussard’s downfall – pleading guilty to federal corruption charges – were sown even before he took office as Jefferson Parish president beginning in 2002 when he was only a councilman, according to court documents.
The factual basis released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office detailing Broussard’s crimes and signed by Broussard as part of his guilty plea shows a man placing personal interests ahead of the public’s needs just after he had been elected to the most powerful position in Jefferson Parish – tainting his presidency almost immediately.
“At 23 years old, I came into politics as a dragon slayer. At 63 years old, I am going out as a dragon,” Broussard said to reporters as he entered the federal courthouse to enter his guilty plea.
Sometime between Broussard’s first election as parish president in October 2003 and taking office, the then-parish president-elect set up a meeting with three high-ranking parish officials: Tim Whitmer, parish chief administrative officer, Tom Wilkinson, the parish attorney, and one other unnamed official. The subject of the meeting would center on getting Karen Parker, a woman Broussard would marry eventually, a job.
This meeting would end the political careers of all three men. Whitmer pleaded guilty in March to federal charges. Wilkinson pleaded guilty Monday. Broussard, a day later, would also plead guilty to federal charges. Even Parker would plead guilty to charges stemming from the meeting.
“Broussard specifically wanted to have other Parish officials, including Wilkinson, be the individuals who hired Parker, because he knew that once he took over the position of Parish President, he could not hire Parker, and there would be increased scrutiny as a result of their romantic relationship,” says the factual basis.
During the meeting, all three men agreed to get Parker a job as a paralegal supervisor at the parish attorney’s office. It was also understood by the men that the position created just for Parker would be unnecessary.
The position, according to the factual basis, was unclassified, which allowed her to skip the Civil Service test and the hiring guidelines that must be adhered to under Civil Service jobs.
Parker had worked for the Jefferson Parish Council since 1992. In July 2003, she quit her job working as an assistant for Broussard, who was then a councilman, to take a job running his campaign for parish president. The two would be married in May 2004, according to the factual basis. They later divorced in 2009.
Not merely content with creating what federal prosecutors called an “unnecessary” job, Broussard and Wilkinson agreed to try and to attempt erase Parker’s time away from parish government in order to sweeten her pay and the perks she would be eligible to receive.
By late October 2003, “Wilkinson approved the rescission/cancellation of Parker’s July 31, 2003 resignation from Jefferson Parish employment, which allowed her to collect additional money and salary in the form of longevity pay, tenure awards, health insurance benefits, and annual leave,” says the factual basis.
To explain her time away from parish government when she left to run Broussard’s campaign, Parker was placed on leave without pay by Wilkinson, which filled in her break from working for Jefferson Parish.
Around the same time her employment past was parish was being reimagined, Parker was officially given the position as paralegal supervisor. Her starting salary was $48,000 – “higher than the salary range allowed for the position of Paralegal Supervisor under the Executive Pay Plan for Jefferson Parish,” according to the factual basis.
Despite being given the job, Parker didn’t have the necessary credentials, certifications and training for the job, and Broussard, Wilkinson and Whitmer all knew this. And for the approximately six months she worked as a paralegal supervisor, Parker didn’t do any paralegal work, “and the little work she did perform was not paralegal or paralegal supervisory work.”
Tim Whitmer told Wilkinson he was having a problem with Parker in early 2004. Parker, despite holding position she was unqualified for, was trying to collect overtime/comp pay claiming that she working from home – a violation of parish rules. Wilkinson attempted to warn Broussard, but he was brushed off by the parish president.
“Whitmer then explained to Broussard that it was against Jefferson Parish policy for an employee to collect overtime/comp pay while working from home. Broussard’s nonchalant attitude towards the situation caused Whitmer to instruct Wilkinson to take care of the issue with Parker."
In March 2004, Parker was transferred to ID Management on West Napoleon Avenue in Metairie. The department issues badges for parish employees. “Despite her transfer to the East Bank Regional Library, Parker retained her position and higher salary of ‘Paralegal Supervisor’ until her dismissal on or about February 5, 2010.”
Not only did Parker not perform any paralegal duties at ID Management, she sometimes would not even show up for work – something that both Broussard and Wilkinson knew, according to the factual basis.
In five years, from 2004 through 2009, Parker would get four pay raises – once twice in a year – by Wilkinson, increasing her salary from “$46,439.99 to approximately $63,898.36.”
“In total, from 2004 through 2010, Parker was paid approximately $323,308.13 in Jefferson Parish taxpayer funds for her salary, which was approximately $129,176.41 more than the individual who held the position of ID/Security System Coordinator.”
If Broussard attempted to fight the federal prosecution against him, investigators were ready to present evidence showing that not only Parker benefited from the largesse of Broussard, Wilkinson and Whitmer, but Broussard also enjoyed the fruits of the scheme as well.
“Evidence would be introduced at trial to establish that Karen Parker and Broussard had approximately four joint bank accounts, including accounts for their condominium in Perdido Key, Florida. In addition, Karen Parker and Broussard filed their federal income tax returns jointly and applied for bank loans and/or mortgages jointly.”
Broussard’s trail of corruption, according to factual basis, started even before he became a parish president. William Mack, owner of First Communications Company, a telecommunications company that bid for several parish jobs. Mack paid Broussard $1,500 a month, starting in 2002, to divert contracts to Mack’s company.
From 2004 to 2007, Mack would pay Broussard $66,000, but only yielded $40,000 in parish work.
Broussard also attempted to steer additional telecommunications work to Mack’s company in a 2008 request for proposal, but that was unsuccessful.
While Broussard’s political career officially ended when resigned from office in January 2010 as federal prosecutors were closing in on him, his final act was at federal court Tuesday.
A contrite Broussard appeared in court and told the U.S. District Court Judge Hayden Head he had surrendered his law license and he was ready to take responsibility for his crimes.
As Broussard left the court and cameras and reporters followed him, a woman wandered up and asked him who he was.
“I’m a crook,” Broussard simply replied.