GRETNA, La. -- Girod Jackson III of Marrero was forced to resign from the state Legislature on Thursday after federal authorities charged him with felony tax fraud and two misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns.
Jackson had already acknowledged in a corporate bankruptcy filing last month that his company Diversified Ventures owes $150,000 in unpaid federal taxes.
Jackson called his tax problems “mistakes” and “errors,” but prosecutors alleged something more deliberate. When he did file returns for Diversified Ventures, he understated the company’s earnings by at least $800,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged in court filings.
The court documents also said Jackson failed to file returns for the 2007 and 2008 tax years even after getting extensions.
But the tax-related charges only scratch the surface. 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.
And in both cases, the audits said relatives of Jackson’s close political ally, former Parish Councilman Byron Lee, directly benefited.
Lee, who left the parish council in 2012, was known as Jackson’s political patron. 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.
And another federal investigation began recently when Eyewitness News analyzed public billing records and legislative minutes and found Jackson charging taxpayers for eight hours of work as a subcontractor on the Road Home’s Small Rental Repair Program, even on days when he was working as much as 16 hours on the House floor.
Jackson did offer these contrite words in a statement:
“Today, I acknowledge and accept my errors. My hope is to come out of this ordeal a stronger and wiser man. I humbly apologize to my family, my colleagues, my former constituents and the general public. I know that I have disappointed many people and I will spend the rest of my life working to regain your trust.”
But that was little consolation for Theresa Moss, who won a $65,000 judgment from Diversified Ventures because of shoddy work building her Kenner house, only to have Jackson file for bankruptcy on the day he was supposed to show up in civil district court in Gretna and explain why he hadn’t paid up.
“If it’s truly a heartfelt statement and he wants to be a better and a wiser man, he can start right here,” Moss said. “On the road to redemption, if that’s where he’s headed, he can start right here by paying me.”