Federal tax fraud trial begins for New Orleans city judge accused of padding wedding fees
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A federal tax fraud trial began Monday (Nov. 14) for Ernestine “Teena” Anderson-Trahan, a judge at New Orleans’ 2nd City Court accused of failing to report income for legal work that included officiating weddings.
Anderson-Trahan was the subject of a Fox 8 Lee Zurik investigation in 2018 into judges overcharging couples to officiate weddings. A resulting federal indictment alleged that Anderson-Trahan charged wedding fees that exceeded those allowed by state law and did not report all the income she collected from them during the tax years 2013-16.
“Al Capone was not convicted of racketeering, he was convicted of tax evasion,” Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said. “Not to make a bad analogy, but she’s not being charged for doing that act. She’s being charged for not reporting the money she received for that act.”
The 2nd City Court judge was indicted on Jan. 7, 2022. One week later, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended her with pay, pending the outcome of her trial. If convicted as charged, she could face up to 12 years in federal prison.
The indictment accuses Anderson-Trahan of charging higher fees for weddings outside of normal business hours, weddings outside the Algiers Courthouse and for marriages scheduled on Valentine’s day.
Zurik’s investigation found that she charged one couple as much as $180, when state law said the fee should have been $5.
State law also requires judges to deposit such fees into the court’s bank account.
Former court employees Lisa Hibbs and Tamara Griffin-Major testified Monday that the cash payments Anderson-Trahan demanded typically ranged from $80 to $100.
Christina Dugas, a bride whose wedding was officiated by Anderson-Trahan, testified that she paid $100 for the service.
The employees testified that cash dealings were typical. They said they believed it was nothing different from what previous judges required, and they left the cash on Anderson-Trahan’s desk. They said the signed marriage licenses ofter were the only records kept by the court.
Anderson-Trahan reported she made less than $25,000 officiating weddings. But in 2017, Trahan officiated 473 weddings.
Anderson-Trahan faces four counts of filing false tax returns.
“Her sentence -- if she were convicted -- is determined by the sentencing guidelines, which looks at how much money is involved, is she in a position of confidence like an elected official, and if there are other aggravating circumstances and other mitigating circumstances,” Raspanti said. “And that is calculated to fit to the federal sentencing guidelines. That is just advisement to the judge. The judge ultimately does what she wants to do.”
Anderson-Trahan’s current term ends in 2024. The trial continues Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.
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