NEW ORLEANS -- The former chief deputy of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office pleaded guilty Thursday for his role in a scheme to rip off local businesses by submitting inflated invoices for off-duty deputies to work security at special events.
Gerald "Jerry" Ursin, Jr., who served as second-in-command to Sheriff Marlin Gusman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge in U.S. District Court.
Ursin, speaking in a clear, firm voice, confessed that he and another high-ranking sheriff's office official, Roy Austin, overbilled Mardi Gras krewes, music festivals and even Super Bowl XLVII for the security work of “ghost” employees who never showed up for the jobs.
"I plead guilty," Ursin told U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon.
Ursin, 62, faces up to five years in federal prison but likely will receive a far shorter term, due in part to his lack of criminal history. His defense attorney, Pat Fanning, said he hopes his client will be placed on probation.
“He's a proud guy who's got a beautiful family that he cares very much about,” Fanning said after the guilty plea. “And he's very ashamed of himself. And he's very sorry for the embarrassment he's caused his family.”
“Unfortunately, he made a mistake here, for which he has accepted responsibility,” Fanning said.
Ursin served as Gusman's right-hand man through a tumultuous era in the sheriff's tenure, which has been marred by scandalous conditions in the city's jail. A longtime lawman who previously ascended the ranks of the New Orleans Police Department, rising to deputy chief.
Ursin stepped down in April after the state Legislative Auditor's Office released an alarming report that outlined the detail scheme. The legislative auditor investigated the case alongside the FBI.
The report focused on Austin, who for years organized the off-duty details through his private company, Austin Sales and Service, and inflated invoices for major sporting events and festivals in the city, including the 2013 Super Bowl. Austin, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, pocketed at least $83,000 in bogus charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.
Ursin personally collected about $2,700 in ill-gotten gains, directing family members to endorse checks from Austin that had been made "under the fraudulent guise of payments for detail work," according to court documents.
But as a supervisor, Ursin was held responsible for some $25,000 in stolen funds because he was sent invoices outlining years’ worth of fraudulent charges from 2009 to 2014.
“The government took the position that, when he saw those emails, he should have reviewed them carefully and looked for fraud; therefore, it was foreseeable that he knew there was some fraud in there,” Fanning said.
Ursin is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 19. Austin, his longtime colleague, is set to be sentenced on Nov. 9.
(© 2016 WWL)