NEW ORLEANS -- Former state Rep. Girod Jackson pleaded guilty Thursday to federal tax fraud and tax evasion charges, admitting he lowballed his construction company's income by about $800,000 over two years, and also willfully avoided filing tax returns for two years.
The guilty plea has been expected for months, but still marked a shocking fall for someone who not long ago reacted defiantly to recent Eyewitness Investigations into his questionable business dealings.
In one case, public records showed he was billing taxpayers $117 an hour for full-time work as a project manager on a state Katrina housing program even on days when he spent up to 16 hours doing legislative business on the floor of the House of Representatives. Our report triggered a federal investigation, but Jackson insisted he deserved credit for a 'herculean effort' working all of those hours in two publicly funded jobs.
We also reported that Jackson filed for federal bankruptcy protection for his company Diversified Ventures to avoid paying a state court judgment of $65,000 for shoddy work on a Kenner home. Jackson's bankruptcy case was dismissed by a federal judge, but he claimed the Kenner homeowner and her attorney had defamed him.
It was a different story Thursday, as Jackson's attorney Jim Boren said his client was cooperating fully with federal authorities and agreeing to pay the taxes he owes.
And yet, the amount of money owed from 2006, 2007 and 2008 remains in dispute and still must be calculated by accountants before Jackson's sentencing in January. The government says it's somewhere between $80,000 and $200,000. Jackson's attorney would only say it's more than $50,000.
Strangely, Boren's contention deviates from Jackson's bankruptcy filing, which states that Diversified Ventures owed $150,000 in unpaid federal taxes.
In spite of that discrepancy, Boren said his client's willingness to plead guilty and pay back taxes counted as 'considerable' cooperation with federal authorities as U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo weighs Jackson's punishment. Jackson, who faces a maximum of three years in prison, is set to be sentenced Jan. 9.
Jackson's cooperation likely extends to other investigations. Legislative audits in 2012 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 to those nonprofits that could not be substantiated.
And a federal Housing and Urban Development inspector general's report found the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority gave Jackson's firm more than $90,000 in no-bid work, in violation of contracting rules requiring bids and forbidding state legislators from getting contracts.
Both of the state audits said relatives of Jackson's close political ally, former Parish Councilman Byron Lee, directly benefited from the arrangements.
Lee, who left the parish council in 2012, was known as Jackson's political patron. It was Lee's legislative aide, whose sister was the chief executive of Jefferson Community Health Centers, who approved payments by the parish government to Diversified Ventures on behalf of the health care clinic.
And three of Lee's relatives also worked at the clinic.
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.
All the while, Diversified Ventures shared an office in the Gretna Plaza Building with Byron Lee's brother-in-law, Eric Thomspon.
Neither Jackson nor Lee has never been charged with any crimes or ethics violations related to those investigative findings.
'I'm not aware of any federal criminal investigation of Mr. Jackson other than the one that we just pled guilty to,' Boren said Thursday.