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Former New Orleans housing agency head pleads guilty to conspiracy in kickback case

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NEW ORLEANS — The former director of a nonprofit housing agency in New Orleans pleaded guilty Wednesday in a kickback scheme that came to light as the city struggled to clear blight and repair widespread damage in the years following Hurricane Katrina.

Former New Orleans Affordable Housing director Stacey Jackson faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to a single conspiracy count accusing her in a plot to seek and accept bribes from contractors. She will be sentenced Oct. 16. Under an agreement with prosecutors, three related charges — obstruction of justice, bribery and theft of federal money — will be dropped.

The housing agency was supposed to provide federally-financed house-gutting services after Katrina hit in 2005, leading to levee failures and catastrophic flooding. But news reports in 2008 showed that the work was never completed. Plea deals over the ensuing years with others involved in the case outlined hundreds of thousands of dollars in NOAH transactions, involving contractors who did little or no work. Documents outlining the case against Jackson that were filed in court Wednesday detailed close to $50,000 in kickbacks.

The scandal became a major embarrassment for the administration of then-Mayor Ray Nagin, whose popularity was plummeting as the city struggled to recover from the 2005 storm. Nagin has since been convicted of corruption in an unrelated case. He faces sentencing next week.

Jackson's attorney, Edward Castaing, stood next to Jackson in court as she entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon.

Before the change-of-plea hearing was abruptly scheduled on Tuesday, Castaing had unsuccessfully sought dismissal of the charges on various grounds.

One defense motion sought dismissal of Jackson's indictment because of remarks that Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone made about her case on a newspaper's website after news of the investigation broke in 2008. Perricone would later resign after news surfaced of his comments on a variety of cases. Prosecutors argued that there was no evidence that the remarks influenced the grand jury that indicted Jackson.

Castaing also got court orders forcing a news agency — Nola.com/The Times-Picayune — to turn over materials regarding online posters to determine whether other remarks were made by prosecutors.

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