NEW ORLEANS - A federal magistrate judge has rejected crooked businessman Aaron Bennett’s efforts to undo a $9.2 million settlement he signed in May.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackled from his 2011 bribery conviction, Bennett appeared before Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson last month and claimed his agreement with CDM Constructors was not final.
The company Bennett founded, Benetech, got major local and federal government contracts, including multi-million-dollar work for the Corps of Engineers storm-proofing area pumping stations. In one of the contracts, for stations in Jefferson Parish, Benetech hired CDM, the former Camp, Dresser & McKee out of Cambridge, Mass., as subcontractors.
CDM sued over Benetech’s failure to pay for work completed. It settled with Benetech, which has been run by Bennett’s father since the son’s bribery conviction. But Aaron Bennett called his own signed agreement from May a mere “agreement to agree” and refused to sign the final papers required to close the case.
Wilkinson, fresh off throwing Bennett in jail for violating his bond on the bribery conviction, listened quietly to Bennett’s arguments, in stark contrast to his fiery rebuke just weeks earlier, when he reacted to Bennett’s misadventures at a Mississippi casino by calling Bennett “arrogant.”
But in his written findings against Bennett this week, Wilkinson was just as scathing, calling Bennett’s testimony “evasive” and “not credible.”
Bennett hasn’t been sentenced in his 2011 conviction for bribing former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle because he is supposed to testify for the government in its case against former Mayor Ray Nagin, which is set for trial Oct. 28. Bennett admits providing Nagin with a private jet to go to Chicago and Las Vegas, as well as tickets to the New Orleans Saints’ NFC Championship Game in Chicago in January 2007.
Bennett also claims that he introduced Nagin on that trip to Frank Fradella, a businessman who later pleaded guilty to bribing Nagin with truckloads of free granite for the mayor's family countertop business, $50,000 for favorable treatment with city contracts and help getting Nagin's firm an exclusive installation contract with The Home Depot.