NEWS

Moe Brown stung Jury convicts on 11 of 13 counts; Mario Brown acquitted of charges

Deidre Cruse

A jury convicted former White Castle Mayor Maurice “Big Moe” Brown on 11 of 13 counts of federal bribery, racketeering and other charges in U. S. District Court last week, but acquitted his brother, Police Chief Mario Brown, on all counts against him.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for some 20 hours before returning the verdicts Thursday afternoon.

The Browns were accused of taking more than $10,000 worth of bribes, plus game tickets and other things of value, from FBI agents posing as corrupt businessmen in an undercover sting called “Operation Blighted Officials.”

St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace Sr., reportedly the target of the probe, is scheduled for trial in February 2012. He has pleaded not guilty, and is a candidate for re-election in an April 2 primary.

Asked if Maurice Brown might be offered a way to avoid serving a prison sentence in exchange for testifying against Grace, U. S. Attorney Don Cazayoux said he could not comment.

“As far as any specific deals, I don't think that's occurred,” he told the POST/SOUTH Monday. “We just don't comment on any possible deals. The federal system is pretty narrow on what kind of plea agreements can be made.”

Cazayoux said he was pleased with last week's verdict.

“We feel we have learned a little bit during this trial and we'll apply that to future trials. We look forward to going to trial on the other officials.”

The Brown's attorneys could not be reached for comment. They called no witnesses in the brothers' defense, but argued at trial the FBI had entrapped their clients in the scheme.

Undercover agents posed as businessmen promoting a fictitious residential garbage cleaning service called Cifer 5000, offering cash, football and basketball tickets and hotel accommodations in exchange for officials' help with the enterprise.

Maurice Brown was accused of writing a letter of support for Cifer 5000 for use in raising $2 million to $3 million in private from private investors, and a letter of support for an application for a $3 million grant from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The former mayor also was accused of agreeing to take 10 percent of the profits from a contract between the Town of White Castle and Cifer 5000. Seven White Castle officials testified that Brown never presented a contract proposal to the Board of Aldermen.

Mario Brown, re-elected to a second term last fall despite his indictment, was accused of providing confidential information from the FBI to the businessmen and writing a letter asking a Connecticut court to show leniency at a bond hearing, purportedly for the nephew of one of the posing businessmen.

According to trial reports, an FBI operative said Maurice Brown, along with Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis and former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson, were drawn into the investigation by Grace.

Grace told the POST/SOUTH earlier he contacted the other mayors over the previous two years because the company proposed to use a building in St. Gabriel as a terminal for its operations.

He also noted that Iberville's municipalities could not use the garbage can cleaning service because the system required standardized garbage cans that could be picked up and emptied by trucks.

Like Grace, Lewis and Nelson have entered not guilty pleas in their cases. Former Port Allen City Councilman has pleaded guilty to racketeering and bribery charges, but has not been sentenced.

Maurice Brown is expected to be sentenced within 90 days.

If convicted on all 13 counts, he faced up to 170 years in prison and fines of up to $3.25 million, federal authorities said at the time of his indictment.

Maurice Brown served as White Castle mayor for 17 years. He qualified for re-election last summer, but was thrown of the ballot for failing to pay a $3,000 fine to the Louisiana Board of Ethics