NEW ORLEANS -- Two former high-ranking officials with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office were charged in federal court Monday with conspiracy to commit bribery for rigging bids and accepting payoffs from sheriff's office contractors.
Former purchasing manager John Sens and former maintenance chief Gerard Hoffman Jr., a 36-year employee who held the title of colonel, were charged in separate bills of information, indicating that they have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating with federal authorities.
Sens is set to admit taking payoffs in the form of Blue Dog artwork as well the construction of a swimming pool at a Mississippi vacation home.
The Blue Dog 'prints/paintings' were valued at more than $5,300, while the fully installed swimming pool at Sens' home in Waveland, Miss. had a value of about $25,000, according to federal prosecutors. In addition to the gifts, Sens is accused of taking $30,000 in cash from one of the contractors.
Hoffman is accused of accepting a trailer and storage container from a contractor valued at about $7,500, and will reportedly admit getting free electrical work at his home, according to the seven-page bill of information.
The court documents detail a 'rigged bidding process in which real bids would be submitted, along with phony bids to give the appearance of competition.' The appearance of competition was necessary because the sheriff's office policy required at least three bid proposals.
The contractors, referred to in the documents as 'Businessman A' and 'Businessman B,' allegedly would submit real bids in the names of their companies along with higher 'phony' bids in the names of other companies.
'Almost every time this was done, as Sens knew,' the document states, 'the real bids submitted by Businessman A and Businessman B would be awarded the work by Sens and others at OPSO, as the phony bids were intentionally higher quotes than the real ones.'
While the contractors aren't named in the bills of information, sources close to the case say that negotiations are underway to secure their cooperation in the widening grand jury probe.
According to the charges, the contractors were awarded 'millions of dollars in OPSO work' for a variety of unspecified projects from 2007 through 2011.
Sens' attorney, Ralph Capitelli, confirmed that his client is cooperating with federal authorities. We have not been able to contact Hoffman or Hoffman's attorney.
Sens resigned from the sheriff's office Friday, and the Garden District home where he lives was put up for sale over the weekend. Sens was removed from the purchasing job in June after Eyewitness News broke the news about federal grand jury subpoenas being issued in connection with prison contracts.
Hoffman left the sheriff's office in 2012, according to the court documents.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. But when Eyewitness Investigates broke the story Monday that Sens' was cooperating and charges were imminent, a spokesman issued a written statement.
'The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has cooperated with every request made of us on this case and we will continue to cooperate,' spokesman Marc Ehrhardt said.
Contractors that did work at the parish prison also are part of the still-developing probe into a wide range of purchasing and contracting practices, according to multiple sources.
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.
Hoffman worked at the sheriff's office from 1976 to 2012, according to the bill of information.