The question for this former sheriff sounds simple; the implications of how he answers could be significant.
Did Jiff Hingle receive gifts, a loan and contracts from the managing director of a powerful company, and then help that company secure lucrative government work?
“We are not dealing with a very sophisticated issue,” Metropolitan Crime Commission chief Rafael Goyeneche says. “It’s right and wrong. When you are in business, you don't need to have been a lawyer or a federal agent, or aware of the criminal laws: There are certain things you can or cannot do. You cannot influence a public official by spending money on them.”
The managing director of a Mobile, Alabama-based disaster recovery company should know better than most. Robert Isakson spent 10 years in the FBI -- he used to head the public corruption unit in the New Orleans office. Since then, he's formed a company, the DRC group, that's made tens of millions of your tax dollars.
Thursday night, we detailed how Isakson paid for Sheriff Jiff Hingle and his driver to attend a 2009 LSU football game in Alabama.
Then after the oil spill, Isakson and DRC gave Hingle and his driver, Brandon Mouriz, a $100,000 loan to help start-up an equipment rental company. After giving Hingle and Mouriz the loan, Isakson and DRC also hired their company and paid them almost half a million dollars, paying them with BP money.
Isakson and DRC also paid almost half a million dollars to Delta Security, another company connected to Mouriz. In another instance, Hingle's marina made $250,000 from DRC.
And Isakson separately hired Hingle's business partner at the marina, Darren Angelo, and paid Angelo personally $304,000 and Angelo's company, Fleet Intermodal, another $300,000.
Plaquemines Parish government has paid DRC $34 million since 2007.
But it's the relationship between Hingle and Isakson that could pique the interest of Isakson's former employer, the FBI.
From 2003 through the oil spill, DRC had no contracts with Hingle's office. But after that 2009 LSU football trip, the loan, the BP-related work for Hingle, his driver and his business partner, the money began to flow from Hingle's office to Isakson's company.
In January of last year, Hingle gave DRC a $1.2 million contract to build a temporary 22-bed jail.
Months later, DRC received a $1.9 million contract to build a temporary correctional training facility.
Isakson has not returned our emails; Brandon Mouriz referred us to his attorney.
Acting Plaquemines Sheriff Michael Lafrance recently fired Mouriz. Last summer, we showed you Mouriz made $125,000 in 2010 -- nearly $50,000 of it in overtime. Rafael Goyeneche says he wonders how Mouriz could make that much money in overtime. In the same year, companies Mouriz has affiliations with earned $912,000 from DRC for BP-related work.
Hingle has already pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. But his truthfulness on this issue could have a serious impact on his plea deal.
“If he has misled the gov't, if he has or witheld info after they’ve questioned him about it, or if he has been outright untruthful, there could be some severe consequences,” says Goyeneche.
And if the feds feel it’s warranted, they could also charge Hingle with a separate offense or, Goyeneche says, vacate his plea deal. “If the sheiff is being deceptive or non-cooperative to the government, or would even go so far as to lie to the government, there could be serious repurcusions for him as he awaits sentencing.”
Hingle's attorney, Frank DeSalvo told us Thursday, “Everything with Isakson was up and above board and the government was made aware of that.”
The head of the Crime Commission calls the circumstances