Ex-New Orleans tech chief, wife, vendor indicted

AP News
|
Posted: Nov 06, 2009 5:50 PM

A federal grand jury on Friday indicted former New Orleans technology chief Greg Meffert, his wife and a one-time city vendor in an alleged kickback scheme involving contracts for the city's crime surveillance program.

The indictments against Meffert, 44; his wife, Linda Meffert, 42; and businessman Mark St. Pierre, 46 include charges of bribery, money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud and conspiracy. The Mefferts also are charged with filing false tax returns and making a false statement to investigators.

The 63-count indictment came four days after a civil jury found Greg Meffert and companies owned by St. Pierre conspired with Dell Inc. to unfairly compete in the video surveillance business with two companies that once worked on the crime camera program. The jury also found Meffert and Imagine Software, a St. Pierre company that helped run the technology office and manage the camera program, interfered with the city contract the companies worked under.

Eddie Castaing, a lawyer for St. Pierre, said his client will plead not guilty and "exercise his constitutional right to have his day in court."

"This is his first chance to present his defense and to tell his story about what really happened," Castaing said. "When the jury sees that, I believe he will be exonerated."

An attorney for Meffert didn't return messages seeking comment on Friday's indictments.

After his 2002 election, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin hired Greg Meffert, a perceived wunderkind, to overhaul City Hall's woeful technology systems.

As chief of the technology office, Meffert was part of Nagin's inner circle _ the men acknowledged being friends _ and Meffert drew praise for revamping the city Web site and promoting a citywide Wi-Fi system.

Nagin, who is neither charged nor named in the indictments, was elected that year on a business-backed reform platform, vowing to clean up political corruption.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the indictment charged that Meffert manipulated the city's procurement process to steer work to St. Pierre's companies, receiving kickback payments in return.

The indictment alleges that between 2004-2007, St. Pierre paid more than $860,000 in credit card purchases, cash and such things as membership dues for Mardi Gras parades. It also alleges Greg Meffert approved about $4 million in payments to St. Pierre companies, using a primary contractor as a cover. The indictment also alleges Greg and Linda Meffert lied to FBI agents and filed false tax returns for 2006 and 2007.

During the civil trial, Meffert said that while he worked at City Hall he had the use of a credit card provided by a St. Pierre company, Net Methods. Evidence presented at trial indicated Meffert racked up more than $100,000 in charges on the card, including meals, clothing and gym expenses.

Among the more controversial charges was airfare for Nagin and his family to fly to Jamaica in November 2005, months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

Nagin has publicly said he remembers little about the early months after the storm and was confused about details surrounding the Jamaica trip.

Spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said Nagin was in meetings Friday afternoon. She said city officials have been cooperating with investigators in the criminal case.

In the civil case, Meffert defended the Net Methods payments as amounting to moonlighting to offset the pay cut he took in leaving the private sector for a roughly $150,000 a year job in city government. He said his work involved drumming up e-commerce for Net Methods and didn't involve the city or crime cameras. He also claimed he had Nagin's blessing to do it, a claim the city hasn't responded to.

The camera program was envisioned as a way to help police deal with high-crime neighborhoods where drug crimes and killings are widespread. But it has been troubled since its inception.

Only about a quarter of the 1,000 cameras originally envisioned have been deployed. Officials have acknowledged operational problems within the system.

A city inspector general's report found the program lacked a "realistic budget" from the start, with the $2.6 million price estimated by the technology office for 240 cameras ballooning to more than $6.6 million.

After leaving city government, saying he had burned out in the position, Meffert formed his own company, Logistix. Records in the civil trial showed Logistix received more than $640,000 from Net Methods for consulting work.

___

Associated Press Writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.