NEW ORLEANS — A former contractor for Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in a bid-rigging and kickback scheme that also netted guilty pleas from two former top sheriff's office officials.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman earlier this week also fined Richard P. Molenaar III $20,000 for his role in the bribery conspiracy.
As part of his plea, Molenaar admitted to submitting phony bids from other companies along with real ones, to subvert a legal and policy requirement for three competitive bids.
He also admitted to bribing John Sens, the former director of purchasing for the sheriff's office, who pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks in the bid-rigging scheme for awarding the work to Molenaar. In exchange for Sens' participation in the scheme, Molenaar gave Sens $30,000 and installed a swimming pool at his home for free, work valued at $25,000.
The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1c0iPG6 ) the 18-month sentence is lower than the 30 to 37 months dictated under federal guidelines for the charge of conspiracy to commit bribery.
Molenaar is required to report to prison by Feb. 27.
Leaving the courtroom, Molenaar said only, "I'm just glad it's over."
In a letter to the judge, which Feldman read aloud in court Wednesday, Molenaar said he got roped into the kickback scheme by Sens and William Short, a former chief deputy under Gusman.
Short, who died in October 2011, has long been identified as a central figure in a federal probe of the Sheriff's Office contracting practices that started with a focus on how work was parceled out for the sheriff's temporary detention center but soon expanded.
Sens, a leader of Gusman's campaign fundraising operation, is the brother of Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens, a longtime Gusman friend and ally.
John Sens, Molenaar's former brother-in-law, resigned from the Sheriff's Office in February 2012 amid the federal investigation. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years for his role in the bid-rigging and bribery conspiracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Chester said Molenaar was the first person to admit to the scheme and helped the feds build their case. Besides John Sens' plea, the federal probe netted a guilty plea on a bribery conspiracy charge from the sheriff's former maintenance director, Col. Gerard Hoffman, who was sentenced in September to probation and a fine.
A second contractor implicated in the kickback scheme, John Killeen, died in April. He was never charged.
Chester, urging the judge to impose a sentence below the normal range, said Molenaar was "the first to walk in our door" after word spread of the FBI investigation into the sheriff's contracts.
Feldman was unimpressed, chastising both Molenaar and the government over the letter, which ignored the rigged bids that Molenaar helped engineer.
"Why does your letter mention nothing about bid-rigging?" asked Feldman, who called the bid-rigging scheme "the darker prospect of your crime."
"I don't consider this letter genuine and I don't consider the government's intentions genuine," the judge added. "The letter's a half-truth. It omits the most serious part of the crime."
Molenaar stayed silent while his attorney, Frank DeSalvo, explained that Molenaar was simply trying to keep the letter concise and had clearly admitted rigging bids. DeSalvo also touted Molenaar's cooperation and the fact he quit the kickback arrangement before the feds came knocking.
"He did get involved. He got involved after he was legitimately working for the Sheriff's Office. He should have walked away. He didn't," DeSalvo said. "But eventually he did" after growing bitter about "the way business seemed to have to be done."
DeSalvo said he was uncertain whether Molenaar's cooperation would lead to charges against others, or if the federal investigation is continuing.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com