NEW ORLEANS - The former chief deputy of New Orleans Traffic Court has been formally charged with stealing money from unsuspecting traffic violators, an alleged scam we detailed in an earlier 4Investigates story.
James Singleton was charged today in a one-count bill of information. He is charged with felony theft as an agent of an organization receiving federal funds.
Singleton is accused of taking at least $9,760 from at least six victims, but never clearing their violations in the court’s computer system. Sources tell Channel 4 that Singleton may not have acted alone and is cooperating with a larger investigation.
Singleton was arrested April 20 based on a criminal complaint and has since been out on bond. The fact that Singleton was charged through a bill of information, rather than a grand jury indictment, is a sign that he is cooperating with authorities.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the charge against Singleton illustrates the goverment's "zero tolerance for corruption."
"In addition to using his position to steal from citizens, Singleton's conduct denied essential funds to New Orleans traffic court and to the city's public defender's office," he said.
According to traffic court officials, Singleton was in charge of giving “reinstatement letters” to traffic violators who paid off their tickets to regain their suspended licenses and driving privileges. But officials became suspicious when some of those violators returned to court after being re-arrested for the same unpaid violations.
Rochelle Evans said she was a victim. Evans had racked up multiple tickets, so she paid them off with her income tax refund. She thought the matter was over until she got pulled over again and arrested.
"I got pulled over by the police officer and he told me that my driver's license was suspended, and I went to telling him, that can't be so, because it was handled already and it wasn't," Evans said.
When Evans went back to court, she got the bad news: none of the tickets was marked as paid.
Noel Cassanova, chief clerk of traffic court, said he heard identical complaints from others. He reviewed the cases and found a common thread: reinstatement letters signed by Singleton.
"The letter says the tickets are satisfied, but the computer says they're open and pending," Cassanova said.
After several such complaints, Cassanova and the traffic court judges confronted Singleton. He initially denied stealing money, but in September 2010 handed in his resignation.
The court reported Singleton to the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office and the FBI. During the course of an 18-month investigation, more than a dozen additional alleged victims came forward, all with reinstatement letters signed by Singleton.
Channel 4 also began investigating and found several more people who said they were victimized. One woman said she went to an ATM on several occasions to pay Singleton hundreds of dollars. Another alleged victim said Singleton came to her house to collect.
In the course of our investigation, Singleton was quietly arrested by the FBI. In its affidavit, the FBI says Singleton admitted pocketing the money.
WWL-TV has not been able to contact Singleton, who is not related to the former New Orleans city councilman of the same name, for comment. Anyone else who thinks they may have been a victim, can call the FBI at 504-816-3152.