Ex-New Orleans vendor arraigned in contract case

AP News
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Posted: Nov 12, 2009 6:08 PM

A one-time city vendor pleaded not guilty Thursday to engaging in a kickback scheme involving contracts for New Orleans' crime surveillance program.

A federal grand jury on Friday issued a 63-count indictment, including charges of bribery and wire fraud, against businessman Mark St. Pierre, 46; former New Orleans technology chief Greg Meffert, 44, and his wife, Linda Meffert, 42.

St. Pierre entered the not-guilty plea at a Thursday hearing.

The Mefferts, however, did not enter pleas during their initial court appearance Thursday. They are scheduled to return for arraignment on Nov. 24. Their lawyers didn't explain in court why their clients declined to be arraigned Thursday.

Eddie Castaing, a lawyer for St. Pierre, said the delay in the Mefferts' arraignment "meant nothing to us whatsoever."

"We intend to present a very serious defense. You'll see," Castaing said after the hearing.

U.S. Magistrate Louis Moore Jr. allowed all three to remain free on $200,000 personal surety bonds.

The indictment accuses Greg Meffert of manipulating the city's procurement process to steer work to St. Pierre's companies, receiving kickbacks in return. He was a member of Mayor Ray Nagin's inner circle, but Nagin isn't charged or named in the indictment.

The indictment came four days after a civil jury found that Greg Meffert and companies owned by St. Pierre conspired with Dell Inc. to unfairly compete in the video surveillance business against 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 under which the companies worked.

The indictment accuses Greg Meffert of approving about $4 million in payments to St. Pierre companies, using a primary contractor as a cover, in exchange for about $860,000 in kickbacks. Greg and Linda Meffert also are charged with lying to FBI agents and filing false tax returns for 2006 and 2007.