Federal grand jury indicts White Castle mayor, police chief on racketeering, other charges r

Deidre Cruse, Government Reporter
White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown and White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown

A federal grand jury last week indicted White Castle Mayor Maurice A. Brown and his brother Police Chief Mario D. Brown on 20 counts of racketeering, mail and wire fraud, according to U. S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. announced.

The indictment – which stemmed from an ongoing FBI investigation called “Operation Blighted Officials” – alleges the men used their official positions for the benefit of businesspeople promoting a product known as “Cifer 5000” in exchange for cash, tickets to sporting events and hotel rooms valued at more than  $10,000 in connection with more than $5 million worth of transactions. The indictment cites nine instances of public bribery between October 2008 and June 2010.

There were suggestions that the investigation was an FBI sting operation. The indictment directly quoted conversations between the Browns and two unidentified businesspeople representing Cifer 5000, an automated waste container cleaning system using specially designed and equipped trucks to clean and sanitize commercial and residential waste containers.

An internet search yielded no information on the company or the product, except in connection with the indictments.

St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace, also under investigation, told the POST/SOUTH he contacted other mayors within the last two years and asked them  to look at the product because the company proposed to use a parish-owned building on La. 30 in St. Gabriel as the site of a terminal for its operations.

The FBI searched Grace's office on June 21, the same day they searched White Castle Town Hall and City of Port Allen offices. The U. S. Attorney's Office has reported no grand jury action in connection with the St. Gabriel investigation.

No municipality in Iberville Parish could use the product, Grace said.

“St. Gabriel nor White Castle nor Maringouin nor any city in Iberville Parish can contract with anybody for garbage services,” Mayor Grace said, since the parish government handles garbage collection for the entire parish.

Second, he said, the Cifer 5000 can only be used with standardized garbage cans that can be automatically picked up and emptied into trucks.

“The parish does not have that feature,” he said. “We don't have standardized trash cans, so this could not possibly work with what they're talking about. All I was trying to do was develop an industry.”

The grand jury issued the 27-page indictment of Maurice and Mario Brown on Wednesday, July 7, the opening day of qualifying in White Castle's municipal elections,  shortly the five members of the White Castle Board of Aldermen testified before the panel. The Browns are accused of violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, mail fraud, wire fraud, use of an interstate facility in aid of racketeering and forfeiture.

Among the allegations are that Mayor Brown wrote a letter to potential investors that he was working towards a contract between White Castle and the company, and that he agreed to take 10 percent of the profits in exchange for securing a contract between the town and Cifer 5000.

The grand jury also indicted New Roads Mayor Thomas A. Nelson on RICO Act violations and forfeiture.

A day later, the Browns appeared at the federal courthouse in Baton Rouge in answer to summonses.

They were shackled for an appearance before a federal magistrate, Judge Christine Nolan, who released them on their own recognizance, not requiring them to post bond.

If convicted, Maurice Brown faces up to 170 years imprisonment and a $3.25 million fine, and Mario Brown faces up to 145 years in prison and a $3 million fine, while Nelson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“It's just bad for the whole community,” Alderman John “Plug” Barlow said. “We would love for him [Mayor Brown] to step we can move this town forward.”

Citizens are expected to ask Mayor Brown to resign his office when the Board of Aldermen meets Monday night, Barlow said.

“What reason would I have?” Maurice Brown told the POST/SOUTH in a brief telephone conversation. He said he had no comment on the indictments or on the request for his resignation.

“We can't make him,” Barlow said, noting the mayor had not been found guilty of the charges or pleaded guilty.

Mario Brown did not return the newspaper's phone call.

The U. S. Attorney's office noted that an indictment is a grand jury's determination that probable cause exists to believe a defendant has committed offenses, and that defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty at trial.

“It is always a sad day when a public official betrays the trust of the citizens he has sworn to represent and protect,” Cazayoux said in a news release. “I am thankful for the diligence and sophisticated work of the FBI in this case, and am hopeful that all of our citizens will realize that all of us must abide by the law.”

“It surprised our community,” said Mayor Pro-tem Gerald Jermarr Williams, who would replace Brown if he were to resign. Williams qualified for mayor against Brown last week, but said he planned to run long before the indictments. “We're going to get through it with faith and love and prayer.”

He said the aldermen would have to seek advice from the council's attorney before taking any further steps.

“As for now, he's still acting as mayor,” Williams said.