NEW ORLEANS --The former maintenance chief for Orleans Parish Prison on Thursday became the second former high-ranking prison official to plead guilty to corruption charges in federal court.
Gerard Hoffman Jr., a 36-year employee who held the title of colonel, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery for rigging bids and accepting payoffs from sheriff's office contractors.
Former purchasing manager John Sens pleaded guilty last week to the same charge.
Hoffman, who left the sheriff’s office last year, admitted to accepting a trailer and storage container from a contractor valued at about $7,500, and admitted to getting free electrical work at his home.
Both men were charged last month by way of a bill of information, indicating they had been negotiating with authorities leading up to their guilty pleas.
Following the guilty plea Thursday, Hoffman’s attorney Milton Masinter confirmed his client’s cooperation with the government, saying his client has had four meetings with authorities over the past five months to share information in the ongoing investigation.
Masinter said the feds appear to be focusing on whether other high-ranking officials in the sheriff’s office were involved in the bribery and big-rigging scheme. He described the information that Hoffman’s provide as “substantial.”
"I think it could move the ball forward to the next level, depending on how high the government wants to go,” Masinter said “Mr. Hoffman's information goes to the next level, but I don't think it leads to the level the government wants to go."
But Masinter noted that Hoffman’s role in the crime was minimal, suggesting that others – including Sens – would be in a better position to reveal whether the top echelon of the office know about the scheme.
"Mr. Sens is the one who could answer those questions better," Masinter said.
Hoffman admitted accepting a trailer and storage container from a contractor valued at about $7,500, and will reportedly admit getting free electrical work at his home, according to the seven-page bill of information.
Meanwhile Sens admitted to taking payoffs in the form of Blue Dog artwork as well the construction of a swimming pool at a Mississippi vacation home.
The George Rodrigue Blue Dog “prints/paintings” were valued at more than $5,300, while the fully installed swimming pool at Sens’ home in Waveland, Miss. had a value of about $25,000, according to federal prosecutors. In addition to the gifts, Sens was accused of taking $30,000 in cash from one of the contractors.
Court documents detailed a “rigged bidding process in which real bids would be submitted, along with phony bids to give the appearance of competition.” The appearance of competition was necessary because the sheriff’s office policy required at least three bid proposals.
The contractors, referred to in the documents as “Businessman A” and “Businessman B,” allegedly would submit real bids in the names of their companies along with higher “phony” bids in the names of other companies.
While the contractors weren’t named in the bills of information, Eyewitness Investigates has confirmed through multiple sources that the contractors are John Killeen, an electrician, and Richard Molenaar III, an air-conditioning contractor. According to the sources, the two men have already been talking to federal authorities.
Molenaar's attorney, Frank DeSalvo, said he will continue those discussions while Killeen's attorney, Vinny Mosca, said he is withholding comment while he waits for further developments.
According to the guilty pleas of Hoffman and Sens, the contractors were awarded “millions of dollars in OPSO work” for a variety of unspecified projects from 2007 through 2011.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman has said his office is cooperating with requests from federal prosecutors for information in the ongoing case.
By statute, both Sens and Hoffman face up to five years in prison, although their sentences are expected to be significantly shorter given their cooperation.
Masinter said Hoffman faces anywhere from 18 months to two years in prison, but is hoping for a lighter sentence because of Hoffman’s poor health. Hoffman, who shuffled into court using a walker and oxygen canister, needs a liver transplant, Masinter said.
"I think that Mr. Hoffman did what was best for Mr. Hoffman,” Masinter said. “How far the investigation goes is up to the government. Mr. Hoffman is satisfied, the government is satisfied, so it means I'm satisfied."
Eyewitness News broke the news last year about federal grand jury subpoenas being issued in connection with Orleans Parish Prison contracts.
Hoffman worked at the sheriff’s office from 1976 to 2012, while Sens worked at the sheriff’s office in 2006 and started as a POST-certified deputy at Orleans Parish Prison. Less than a year after Gusman was elected in 2004, he promoted Sens to the purchasing manager job at a salary of $61,000.