NEW ORLEANS -- A local contractor who has been cooperating with authorities has been charged in the still-unfolding bid-rigging and bribery scheme at Orleans Parish Prison.
Richard Molenaar III, whose companies did air-conditioning and mechanical work at the jail complex, was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery in a single-count bill of information.
The bill of information is a clear sign of Molenaar’s cooperation in the expanding case. Earlier this year, two former prison officials pleaded guilty and continue to assist the federal authorities.
In their plea deals, former purchasing director John Sens and former maintenance chief Gerard Hoffman Jr. admitted taking kickbacks in exchange for rigging bids to help Molenaar and other OPP contractors.
In the bill of information against Molenaar, the contractor is accused of working with Sens from 2007 to 2011 to win contracts by submitting phony high bids in the names of fictitious companies so that Molenaar’s companies could secure the low bid. At least three bids were required for a competitive contracting job to be awarded.
“Molenaar and Sens, among others, engaged in a rigged bidding process in which real bids would be submitted along with the phony bids to give the appearance of competition,” the bill of information states.
Molenaar and others were rewarded with millions of dollars in contracts from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, according to the bill. Molenaar’s companies included Ricky’s A/C, Landmark Mechanical Contractors and Custom Carpentry Renovations.
Molenaar is accused of rewarding Sens by building an in-ground swimming pool at Sens’ Mississippi vacation home as well as about $30,000 in cash.
Hoffman, who left the sheriff’s office last year, admitted to accepting a trailer and storage container, as well as getting free electrical work at his home. The total value of the kickbacks was estimated to be about $7,500.
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.
Hoffman faces anywhere from 18 months to two years in prison, but is hoping for a lighter sentence because of his poor health. Hoffman, who uses a walker and oxygen canister, needs a liver transplant, according to his attorney Milton Masinter.
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.