Corruption trial begins for former New Orleans politician Gill Pratt

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Former New Orleans councilwoman and Louisiana state rep. Renee Gill Pratt is heading to court this week in her racketeering and corruption trial. Gill Pratt is accused of conspiring with several family members of her mentor, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, to loot three bogus non-profits they controlled of more than $1 million in taxpayer monies.

Gill Pratt, 56, was a member of the state House from 1991 to 2002 and a New Orleans councilwoman from 2002 through 2006.

She is accused of helping secure $1 million in public funds for three bogus non-profits, which then distributed the monies to members of former U.S Rep. William Jefferson's family.

Two principal figures in the scheme, Jefferson’s sister Betty Johnson and her daughter, Angela Coleman, pleaded guilty last year to charges of mail fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and aggravated identity theft. Both women are expected to be the prosecutor’s key witnesses against Gill Pratt.

Another defendant in the conspiracy, Mose Jefferson, brother to Betty and William, is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence on a bribery conviction in another case. Mose is also the former boyfriend of Gill Pratt.

The case covers a period of 15 years, during which the defendants, described collectively by prosecutors as a “criminal enterprise,” obtained government funds for non-profits to benefit the poor, and then diverted the funds for their own use. Authorities say that Gill Pratt’s lead role was to obtain city and state funding for the non-profits. She is also accused of helping launder the monies.

Once William Jefferson and Gill Pratt steered the public funds to the non-profits, Betty Jefferson, Coleman, and Jefferson sister Brenda Foster, now deceased, wrote checks to themselves, family members and companies they controlled. In some instances, funds were used to bankroll improvements on properties owned by family members.

Prosecutors also accused Gill Pratt of corruption charges for misusing city vehicles and defrauding taxpayers on rents she paid for a satellite office in a building owned by Mose Jefferson.

After Hurricane Katrina, DaimlerChrysler donate vehicles to the city for its recovery efforts, and Gill Pratt claimed four of them as her own. The vehicles were used personally by Gill Pratt, Mose Jefferson and other relatives and friends, even though they all knew the vehicles were to be used exclusively for the recovery effort.

When she lost her bid for another term in city council in May 2006, Gill Pratt transferred the titles in all the vehicles to Care Unlimited and another bogus non-profit controlled by the Jeffersons. After the matter became public, she bowed to public outrage and returned all the vehicles.

While she was a councilwoman, prosecutors accused Gill Pratt of using city funds to rent a satellite office in a building secretly owned by Mose Jefferson. Over a three year period, she paid over $70,000 to rent one of the eight suites in the building, even though Jefferson had only paid $10,000 to purchase the entire building.

If convicted, Gill Pratt could get up to 20 years in prison.

In November 2009, William Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a bribery conviction, the longest sentence ever handed down to a congressman for any type of crime. He is free on bail while appealing the conviction.

Information from: The Times-Picayune

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Comment (1)
  1. Ruth says:

    I think these people have acted deplorable to steal from a non profit especially. They are pathetic.

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