FBI agent to court: Corruption probe started with Grace; Browns admit taking cash, tickets

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

An FBI public investigation into public corruption started with St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace and eventually covered former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown and his brother Police Chief Mario Brown and four others, an FBI agent said in a document filed with the U. S. District in Baton Rouge last week.

Both Maurice and Mario Brown admitted to taking sports tickets and cash in exchange for favors to a fictitious residential garbage cleaning service called Cifer 5000, New Orleans-based Special Agent Tonja Sablatura said in an affidavit supporting her request for a warrant the telephone records of the Browns' Town of White Castle phones.

It was filed a week after the revelation that the lead FBI undercover agent in the Cifer 5000 probe, Special Agent Darin Lee McAllister, was convicted in Tennessee on 15 counts of wire fraud and three counts of bankruptcy fraud.

A federal grand jury last year indicted all three Iberville Parish officials on charges of bribery, fraud and racketeering. All three have pleaded innocent to the charges. The Browns are scheduled for trial on February 22. Grace's trial is scheduled for February 2012.

“These are mere allegations. Nothing has been proven in court,” Bruce Craft, Maurice Brown's attorney, told The Advocate. “That's what trials are for.”

“The investigation in this district started with allegations that George Grace, the mayor of St. Gabriel, Louisiana, had engaged in extortion and bribery schemes involving a businessperson in Houston, Texas, and a businessperson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” Sablatura alleged in the affidavit. “After confirming this information, an undercover operation was utilized to determine the depth and scope of corruption surrounding Grace.”

Grace, who has denied taking bribes, told the POST/SOUTH earlier he had called other mayors and asked them to look at the Cifer 5000 product because the company proposed to use a parish-owned building on La. 30 in St. Gabriel as a terminal for its operations.

Sablatura's affidavit quotes at length from telephone conversations allegedly taped by the FBI, many of which also were cited in the federal indictment.  U. S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson ruled in December that the tapes were admissible as evidence at the Browns' trial.

From October 8, 2008, through June 10, 2010, she alleged, telephone records show 89 calls between Maurice Brown and the FBI's paid “confidential human source,” and 163 calls between Mario Brown and the source.

Sablatura said during a June 2010 interview with FBI agents, Mario Brown “confessed to receiving sporting event tickets and cash in exchange for using his official position as police chief to obtain and provide criminal histories and driver's license information on several individuals” for the FBI source.

Maurice Brown initially denied he was offered anything of value for supporting Cifer 5000, according to the affidavit.

“After being shown evidence to the contrary, Maurice admitted to receiving sporting event tickets and cash from [the FBI source] in exchange for using his position as mayor to sign off on an official letter of support for Cifer and also a letter to the [U. S. Environmental Protection Agency] for purposes of a federal grant, Sablatura alleged. “Maurice state that he referred [the source] to his brother, Mario, for the purpose of obtaining background checks.”