George Grace trial opens in Baton Rouge

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

Jury selection continued Tuesday in the federal court trial of former St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace Sr., who faces 13 counts of racketeering, extortion and other charges.

Grace is the third Iberville Parish municipal official to go on trial in connection with the FBI sting called “Operation Blighted Officials,” involving undercover agents posing as businessmen representing a fictional residential garbage can cleaning service, “Cifer 5000.”

Former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown, convicted in connection with the sting and now serving a 10-year prison sentence, is expected to be one of some 70 witnesses who may be called to testify at Grace's trial, as is his brother White Castle Police Chief Mario Brown, who was acquitted of all charges at the same trial.

Four other area officials have been convicted or pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the sting. Former Port Allen Mayor Derek Lewis, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge but who has not been sentenced, is on a list of potential witnesses.

U. S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. of Shreveport, presiding at Grace's trial, has permitted defense attorneys to call a former FBI agent, Darin Lee McAllister, who worked undercover in the Cifer 5000 sting, but agreed with prosecutors not to allow McAllister's felony conviction to be mentioned, the Advocate reported.

McAllister began serving a four-year prison term in September for a conviction in Nashville on charges of wire fraud and making false statements in a bankruptcy case.

Grace is accused of violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), extortion, obstruction of justice, false statements, bribery involving a federally-funded entity, mail and wire fraud in connection with “Operation Blighted Officials,” and additionally with the extortion of a city vendor.

He is being represented by Lewis O. Unglesby, Barrett D. Burkart Jr., Lance C. Unglesby and Robert M. Marionneaux Jr.

Assistant U. S. Attorneys Corey R. Amundson, M. Patricia Jones and Michael J. Jefferson are prosecuting.