David Hammer / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS, La. - A former Orleans Parish Sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty in a bid-rigging scheme got off with probation Wednesday morning because of his 'extraordinary' health problems.

Col. Gerard Hoffman Jr., who used to run jail maintenance for the sheriff, came straight from the hospital this morning to appear at his sentencing in federal court. Looking frail and much older than his 59 years, he was in a wheelchair and hooked up to a breathing tube. His attorney said he's preparing for a liver transplant and a hernia operation due to arterial sclerosis.

Hoffman was facing more than two years in prison for taking things of value, including free electrical work and a trailer, from contractors who got bids rigged in their favor by Hoffman and John Sens, another former deputy who was sentenced to five years in prison in July in spite of his cooperation with the feds.

But Public Defender Milton Masinter said Hoffman was involved at a lower level than Sens and, besides, would die if he had to go to jail. Federal prosecutor Matthew Chester had already asked for a lighter sentence for Hoffman in a sealed document called a 5K letter, and Chester seemed convinced on Wednesday that jail time wasn't necessary for Hoffman.

'His cooperation and health conditions are extraordinary,' Chester said to U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.

In July, Judge Kurt Engelhardt threw the book at Sens and gave him the maximum sentence in spite of his cooperation in the government's ongoing probe of Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office. Milazzo went the other way with Hoffman, giving him five years probation and a $25,000 fine, and wishing him luck with his health issues as the hearing ended.

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