Wire fraud, tax evasion, diamonds and drones part of Chris Roberts federal indictment

Updated: May. 9, 2019 at 5:15 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A federal grand jury handed up an indictment charging former Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts on 29 counts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Roberts’ sudden departure at the end of April came after almost two years of the feds looking into his financial dealings.

The 41-year-old defendant is charged with wire fraud and tax evasion, according to a court document.

A source said Roberts had been involved in plea negotiations involving an investigation into his finances and side businesses. Over the years, he’s had problems with creditors, the IRS, as well as campaign finance issues.

The indictment names a number of businesses that Roberts owns, including CDS Enterprises, L.L.C, Mardi Market, The West Bank Beacon, Baskin Robbins ice cream stores among other businesses.

Around October 2013, after the death of its owner, Roberts was hired to serve as the general manager of a landscaping corporation located in Terrytown. The company’s new owner, the widow of the former owner, had no prior experience running the business, according to prosecutors.

Roberts was responsible for, among other things, the daily oversight, control, and operation of the business.

Prosecutors said beginning no later than May 2014, Roberts allegedly began defrauding the company by by writing checks made payable to himself or entities whose bank accounts were under his control, including the West Bank Beacon and CDS Enterprises. He also used the company’s bank accounts to buy personal items, the court document said.

The indictment alleges Roberts used “deceptive acts to disguise his behavior and to make the fraudulent transactions appear legitimate by various means.” Roberts is accused of writing checks from the landscaping company that contained false descriptions in the memo line.

He also wrote checks to his businesses claiming they were legitimate payments, the indictment said.

Among the items the former councilman purchased were a customized shipping container to use as a retail location for the operation of his fireworks business, three remote-controlled drones, and a 2.01 carat diamond ring with a split shank and 84 additional diamonds surrounding the primary diamond that cost approximately $16,000, which Roberts used as an engagement ring, prosecutors said.

Roberts also failed to report a substantial amount of income he gained from his businesses, and gambling winnings.

The indictment goes on to say with the help of a certified public accountant, Roberts filed initial returns for Tax Years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, in September 2015, during a contested re-election campaign. These returns underreported substantial income sources. Despite failing to declare many of these sources of income on his federal income tax returns, the former councilman disclosed most of them on the personal financial disclosure statements he completed and filed annually with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

In mid-2017, after Roberts learned of a federal criminal investigation into his federal income tax returns, he retained a different certified public accountant to prepare amended returns for Tax Years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as original federal income tax returns for Tax Years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

While his amended returns reported significantly more income that the initial income tax return, prosecutors said Roberts withheld substantial income sources from his these returns, as well.

If convicted, Roberts faces a maximum term of 475 years in prison, a fine of up to $6,200,000, up to three years of supervised release after imprisonment, and a mandatory $100 special assessment per count.

“There’s no place for corruption and greed in public service. Today’s grand jury decision is proof that our U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal investigators are again willing to aggressively pursue public corruption, intimidation, and every form of fraud," Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni said.

Yenni was one of many Jefferson Parish politicians surprised by Roberts’ resignation.

Roberts’ attorney, Eddie Castaing, said he is still reviewing the indictment and has no comment at this time.

Roberts has a long political history in Jefferson Parish. In 2001, he was elected to the school board. He was later elected to the council in 2004.

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