NEW ORLEANS - A local contractor pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday in the bid-rigging and bribery scheme at Orleans Parish Prison.
Richard Molenaar III, whose companies did air-conditioning and mechanical work at the jail complex, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman told Molenaar that he faces up to five years in prison.
Molenaar’s plea deal calls for his cooperation in the ongoing case. Earlier this year, two former prison officials
pleaded guilty and continue to assist the federal authorities.
In similar 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.
Offering his plea to Feldman in a clear voice, Molenaar confessed to 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,” according to the charge against Molenaar.
Molenaar and others were rewarded with millions of dollars in contracts from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, according to prosecutors. Molenaar’s companies included Ricky’s A/C, Landmark Mechanical Contractors and Custom Carpentry Renovations.
Molenaar admitted rewarding Sens by building an in-ground swimming pool at Sens’ Waveland, Miss. vacation home as well as about $30,000 in cash.
Hoffman admitted to accepting a trailer and storage container from a different contractor, as well as getting free electrical work at his home. The total value of those 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 still-active case.
Like Molenaar, Sens and Hoffman face up to five years in prison, although their sentences are expected to be significantly shorter given their cooperation.
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.