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Ex-New Orleans council member Renee Gill Pratt loses latest appeal in corruption case


NEW ORLEANS — A former New Orleans City Council member has lost her latest appeal in a corruption case that landed her in federal prison.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected the appeal of Renee Gill Pratt, who is also a former state legislator.

Pratt is serving a sentence of four years and two months for racketeering conspiracy arising from what prosecutors said was a scheme to steal more than $1 million from taxpayer-funded charities. She is due for release in April 2018.

A three-judge appeals court panel rejected her claim that she deserved a new trial because of anonymous online comments from a federal prosecutor. That prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, resigned in 2012 after he was identified as an online commenter on various federal cases.

"Simply put, we conclude that the prosecutorial misconduct in question is too far removed from the proceedings to support a presumption of prejudice," Judge Priscilla Owen wrote for the three-judge panel.

Prosecutors had argued that Perricone was not directly involved in Gill Pratt's prosecution. They also had outlined steps taken by the trial judge to make sure the jury had not been prejudiced.

Defense lawyers in several high-profile cases have tried with little success to use the online commenting scandal to their clients' advantage. In a decision recently upheld this year by the 5th Circuit, a judge ruled that five former police officers deserve a new trial in connection with deadly shootings of unarmed civilians following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But others convicted of corruption, including Gill Pratt and former Mayor Ray Nagin, have so far failed to win new trials. Nagin is serving a 10-year sentence for corruption.

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