NEW ORLEANS – A federal judge gave former State Rep. Girod Jackson, D-Marrero, just three months in prison for his tax fraud conviction Thursday, calling his crime an “anomaly” in spite of reports by WWL-TV and by state and federal auditors that questioned large sums of public money paid to Jackson.
Jackson pleaded with U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo for leniency, and that’s what she gave him. Rather than follow the federal sentencing guidelines, which, based on the extent of the crime, Jackson’s willingness to plead guilty and his lack of a criminal record, called for a year to 18 months in prison and a year of supervised release, Milazzo instead sentenced Jackson to three months behind bars and nine months home confinement.
Milazzo said she went so far below the guidelines because of Jackson’s long and distinguished service in the U.S. Army and National Guard and because she was “particularly impressed with the devotion (he) showed to his young children.” Jackson’s attorney, Jim Boren, says Jackson has three young children and also supports his girlfriend’s son who was fathered by someone else.
Jackson admitted making “mistakes” by lying on one tax return and failing to file two others. In all, he understated the revenues of his firm Diversified Ventures by some $800,000 over the three years and owed $97,374 in taxes from 2006 to 2008.
But Boren told Milazzo this was “out of character” for Jackson, and Milazzo agreed.
“This appears to be an anomaly in your history,” Milazzo said to Jackson from the bench.
While Jackson had no criminal history, he was an elected official until the day he was charged and was hounded by serious that we and others raised about his use of public funds.
Last year, we found that Jackson was billing the Road Home Small Rental Repair Program and state taxpayers for a full 8 hours of work as a program outreach manager – at $117 an hour – on days when he was also spending the whole day at the state Legislature, a job that paid him another $38,000 a year in taxpayer money.
On one day in 2012, state records showed he was on the House floor for 16 hours and also charged for 8 hours work on the Small Rental Program job. When we confronted him about it, he said, “Well, give me credit for the herculean effort then.”
Boren said he’s had no discussions with federal authorities about the status of a federal investigation into the Road Home billing matter.
Our investigations also found that Jackson owes Theresa Moss more than $65,000 for shoddy repair work his company performed on her home in Kenner. But Jackson filed for bankruptcy protection for Diversified Ventures to avoid paying the judgment. In filing for bankruptcy, he understated the amount he owed Moss and also listed an unpaid state tax liability. The bankruptcy was rejected, but he still hasn’t paid Moss or the tax liabilities.
And here Milazzo gave Jackson another break. She waived the criminal penalty and the interest charges on the delinquent federal taxes and allowed Jackson to pay the $97,000 off at $200 a month, at least until he can afford to pay more. At that rate, it will take him more than 40 years to make restitution.
Moss was flabbergasted by the light sentence, telling us today “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime at all.”
“My father was a Marine and he took care of 12 children, but if he had gone out and robbed a bank, would he have gotten a slap on the wrist like this? No,” Moss said. “They would have thrown him in jail.”
Also not considered in setting Jackson’s sentence were state and federal audit investigations that questioned payments made to Jackson through various government-funded nonprofits.
Legislative audits of Jefferson Community Health Centers and the Jefferson Sports and Scholastic Foundation found that Jackson’s company got paid more than $100,000 for services that could not be substantiated.
Those audits said relatives of Jackson’s close political ally, former Parish Councilman Byron Lee, directly benefited.
Auditors questioned the way Lee’s aide, whose sister was chief executive of Jefferson Community Health Centers, approved parish payments to Jackson’s Diversified Ventures on behalf of the health care clinic, where three of Lee’s relatives also worked.
And while that audit report was being completed, Jackson authored and passed a bill in the Legislature that removed nepotism restrictions for relatives of Jefferson Parish officials working at hospital service districts or public trust authorities in the parish.
Diversified Ventures also shared an office in the Gretna Plaza Building with Byron Lee’s brother-in-law, Eric Thomspon.
In addition to the state audit findings, a federal Housing and Urban Development inspector general’s report found the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority gave Diversified Ventures more than $90,000 in no-bid work, in violation of contracting rules requiring bids and forbidding state legislators from getting contracts.