Hubbard facing prison time

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 25, 2009



NEW ORLEANS — Former St. John the Baptist Parish President Bill Hubbard pleaded guilty in federal court Friday morning to charges of conspiracy to solicit and give bribes involving three companies that have active contracts with the parish who helped him purchase a car for a woman with whom he previously had sexual relations.

Hubbard, along with his attorney Donald “Chick” Foret, appeared before U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey to enter his plea.

The court proceedings moved relatively quickly as Hubbard was expected to enter a guilty plea as part of a pre-arranged deal, but the case hit a snag when both sides wrangled over part of the agreement. The U.S. Attorney’s office wanted Hubbard to sign a bill of factual basis, a legal document in which Hubbard admitted to having a sexual relationship with the woman who accepted the car. Zainey ordered a short recess so that Hubbard, his wife Sherry and his attorney could discuss their actions.

Hubbard and Foret returned to the courtroom about 15 minutes later and Hubbard admitted to the court that the sexual relations took place. If Hubbard had decided not to sign the factual basis, the case could have gone to trial.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten told reporters after the hearing that the information about the sexual relationship was a necessary element of the plea deal after Hubbard made false statements to the public alleging he bought the car, a Toyota Camry, as a favor for a woman who was down and out. Letten said those statements created a false impression on the reasons behind the investigation. He said the investigation had sufficient evidence to prove the nature of the relationship , but he would not elaborate further.

“We felt we had a compelling duty to insist on a specific factual basis that provided an accurate picture of the relationship to the public,” Letten said. “Basically we couldn’t just stand by and watch him lie to the public and be a party to that.”

Letten would also not elaborate on how long the sexual relationship lasted or when it had ended. He did say the inappropriate relationship still existed during the time the bribes took place and that Hubbard made sure the unidentified 31-year-old woman was getting the benefit of the new car.

“This is greed and corruption of the worst order,” Letten said. “It is an absolute violation and betrayal of the public trust, and we will continue to pursue individuals such as this who serve themselves and not the public.”

Hubbard resigned from office Thursday morning upon release of a Bill of Information from Letten’s office detailing the bribes. St. John Chief Administrative Officer Pat McTopy immediately took over in his absence.

The investigation into Hubbard’s bribery, which was made public Tuesday evening, began over the summer after the woman purchased the Toyota from a New Orleans dealership in May.

The Bill of Information alleged three contractors, later identified by sources as Davezac Consulting Engineers of Destrehan and Pipeworks Plumbing & Demolition and Parson & Sanderson Inc., both of Harahan, conspired with Hubbard to help fund a portion of a down payment on the vehicle.

According to the bill and sources close to the investigation, Pipeworks contributed $10,000, while Davezac and Parson & Sanderson each contributed $5,000. The bill said each of the contributions were made in the form of personal checks payable to the dealership. Hubbard hand delivered the checks to the dealership on or about May 5.

The woman for whom the car was purchased has yet to be publicly identified, but sources have said she is not a parish employee. Foret continued to maintain the woman is merely a friend and not romantically involved with Hubbard in any way.

St. John Parish Spokesman Buddy Boe said the three companies allegedly involved in the scheme hold current contracts for parish work. Boe said the parish granted a $1 million contract to Davezac in July to assist the parish in managing various projects tied to a $29.5 million bond issue parish voters approved in April.

Boe said Davezac has earned $32,375 in parish work this year and $80,510 in 2008. He said Parson & Sanderson has earned $163,480 from the parish this year and $103,046 in 2008 for pump and valve work. Pipeworks has earned $90,182 this year and $93,577 in 2008 under general maintenance contracts with the parish.

McTopy said Thursday the parish has not moved to cancel any of the contracts the parish currently has with the three firms. He said the contracts have specific terms, and once those terms are up, the parish will consider renewal.

Foret said the contractors are longtime close friends of Hubbard. He said Hubbard “reached out to them for a favor, and they did him a favor.”

“Because of the fact that he is an elected official and because they do business with the parish, that’s a problem,” Foret said.

Hubbard’s federal probe marks the second time in recent history that a sitting St. John parish president faced federal charges. In 1995, former parish president Lester Millet Jr. was indicted and later convicted on extortion and money laundering charges.

Hubbard now faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. A sentencing hearing has been set for Dec. 15.