School Board members react to Ira Thomas legal troubles

School Board members react to Ira Thomas legal troubles

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Ira Thomas moved swiftly to resign from the Orleans Parish School Board and his job as chief of campus police at Southern University in New Orleans after federal prosecutors announced he was facing charges as part of a kickback scheme.

"My office filed a bill of information against Ira Thomas with participating in a conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud," said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite.

The fact that Thomas was not indicted by a grand jury was telling, according to legal experts.

"It means he's probably giving up the people who gave him the money, and maybe others because a Bill of Information means the deal has been done already," said Joe Raspanti, FOX 8 legal analyst.

Until the allegations were revealed Friday afternoon, Thomas was not only a school board member, but also had the management position at SUNO. The university said he resigned and a spokeswoman for the school board confirmed he had sent papers to the secretary of state's office stating he was giving up his seat on the board.

Thomas had served as board president, his tenure ended in January 2014. The feds allege that part of the time he was serving as board leader he was engaged in dirty acts.

"Specifically in Sept of 2013, an OPSB employee approached an individual and offered a janitorial service contract that would soon be up for bid by the OPSB in exchange for a monetary payoff," said Polite.

That individual, according to Polite, cooperated with the FBI, and attended a 2013 meeting with Thomas, the unnamed school board employee, and another individual who's name was not given.

"These conversations were recorded by that individual, again with the assistance of the FBI," said Polite.

Polite stated that eventually $5,000 changed hands.

"In December of 2013, the individual delivered $5,000 in cash to a private citizen who acted as a go between to Mr. Thomas. This money ultimately delivered to Mr. Thomas," he said.

Polite said in the fall of 2014 Thomas and the OPSB employee were caught scheming, again.

"Thomas and the OPSB employee discussed over recorded telephone conversations how to ultimately alter the bidding process," said Polite.

Some school board members expressed serious disappointment.

Current board president Seth Bloom issued the following statement:

"As Orleans Parish School Board President, I am deeply troubled by the bill of information that was filed against Mr. Thomas by the U.S. Attorney's office. I support US Attorney Ken Polite and agree that Public corruption must not be tolerated on any level, and I am saddened that distractions like this take away from our important focus on improving public education for the children of New Orleans. At the same time, as a criminal defense attorney, I recognize that Mr. Thomas is innocent until proven guilty, and I await the resolution of this matter.," the statement reads.

"I think it's less of a reflection on the NOPD than it is a reflection on the Orleans Parish School Board because that is the capacity in which he was getting the bribe and this sure isn't the first time we've seen Orleans Parish School Board members being taken down by the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Raspanti.

Thomas nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.

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