KENNER, La. — Federal prosecutors are tightening the screws against a former top Kenner city official, bringing a new indictment Friday against James Mohamad on four counts of filing false tax returns.
This second grand jury indictment against Mohamad comes while the former Kenner code enforcement director awaits trial on a felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery, a charge filed against him and a former New Orleans city mechanical inspector in April.
The former New Orleans official, Brian Medus, pleaded guilty in August, admitting Mohamad bribed him to get heating, ventilation and air-conditioning work on construction projects in the city of New Orleans without holding the necessary licenses.
Prosecutors allege Mohamad paid $93,000 in bribes to Medus and others so he could get paid far more money by homeowners for their private HVAC installation and repair work.
Federal prosecutors now allege Mohamad underreported his income during those years, by claiming $53,666 in 2016, $34,871 in 2017, $107,518 in 2018 and $141,061 in 2019.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation told WWL-TV that Mohamad actually raked in millions of dollars over those four years.
Sources said Mohamad made money from his air-conditioning business, J&J Sales, as well as from rental properties he owned and from inspections he conducted for IECI & Associates, the private firm handling most of the third-party inspections on behalf of local governments.
Mohamad’s work for IECI during those years is well-established in the public record. WWL-TV first exposed questions about Mohamad’s inspection reports in an investigative series called “Hidden Dangers.”
The city of New Orleans banned Mohamad from doing inspections in 2019 after the head of the city’s Safety & Permits Department at the time, Zach Smith, discovered Mohamad had used duplicate photographs on inspection reports he filed for multiple property inspections.
A WWL-TV analysis of New Orleans inspection records in 2019 found Mohamad submitted more than 1,700 inspections that year before getting banned.
IECI owner Randy Farrell defended Mohamad’s inspection work for the city of New Orleans at the time, saying the duplicate photos had been submitted in error.
But this October, Farrell pleaded guilty to his own federal tax fraud charges, admitting he concealed income from multiple businesses, including more than $358,000 in personal income he collected from IECI by cashing about four dozen checks recorded for false business purposes.
Mohamad pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges in April. His trial was recently pushed back to March 14, 2022.