A man who once worked for the company that oversaw Hartford's multi-million dollar schools construction project says that former Mayor Eddie Perez and others tried to hit him up for jobs and no-bid contracts.
That man, William Myles, worked for Diggs Construction. But since 2005, he's had another job – as an undercover operative for the FBI.
As WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, Myles is now at the center of an FBI sting of several public officials in southwestern Louisiana.
A Connecticut criminal grand jury spent months looking into allegations of corruption surrounding schools construction in Hartford. But prosecutors never brought charges in connection with the schools.
Now there's another development in the saga that saw former Mayor Perez arrested, convicted, and sentenced to three years in jail. William Myles – who once worked on the capital city's school construction project – told a Louisiana federal court earlier this year that he witnessed corrupt activity in Hartford city government, taped it, and gave it to the FBI.
John McLindon is an attorney in Baton Rouge.
“He testified at trial that he had seen or experienced public corruption in Connecticut and how he hated it so much and it just, he couldn't stand it anymore and he decided he wanted to do something about it.”
Myles' testimony about his time in Connecticut was brief. According to courtroom transcripts, he elaborated on his reasoning for working with the FBI. He said, quote, “After we won the school contract, the mayor and other people came to us – sent a lot of people to us and tried to get us into corrupt things.”
Those corrupt things, he testified, included getting people no-bid contracts and jobs. He also said he refused those requests.
Myles testified that he recorded some of that activity, and that he gave those recordings to the FBI. He also said that he turned to the FBI in order to help out his son, who had been arrested on drug charges.
Again, John McLindon.
“He decided that as an informant he thought he could root out public corruption. And so that's how he got into it, and he started work in Connecticut, and then maybe a few other states, and they said, we'd like to send you down to New Orleans and work on a project down there.”
The revelations came out during what was the first of several trials in Baton Rouge based on a federal sting called Operation Blighted Officials. That sting led to a handful of federal indictments of Louisiana politicians. Myles was at the center of all of them.
Attorney McClindon represented Mario Brown, the police chief of a small sugarcane town called White Caste. His brother, Maurice Brown, is the city’s former mayor. Both men were alleged to have used their public office for personal gain.
Specifically, Mayor Brown was found guilty of having taken tickets to New Orleans Saints games, cash, and other things. Chief Brown took gifts, too. Here he is in a phone call taped by Myles that was entered into evidence in earlier this year and obtained from the court. In the tape, Chief Brown is weighing two bribes Myles has put on the table – a few hundred dollars to buy Mardi Gras beads, or two all-inclusive tickets to see the New Orleans Hornets play the Utah Jazz.
“Two all inclusive tickets to the Utah Jazz. Oh, oh, oh! Boy you make a hard bargain. Boy. I can't have my cake and eat it too?”
WNPR also has tapes of Myles speaking. We’re not airing them in order to protect his identity.
A key part of Attorney McLindon's defense was to show that, while his client took bribes, he only did so after repeated pressure from Myles. McLindon called that entrapment.
He also emphasized just what the FBI did to provide Myles his cover as a corrupt businessman. That, according to testimony from the FBI, included paying for a favorable article about Myles to be published in Hartford’s Inquiring News. The paper’s publisher said this week he was unaware the article was paid for by the government, a claim the FBI has confirmed in court.
Myles’ job in Louisiana was to pose as a corrupt businessman selling a fake garbage can cleaning company to Louisiana mayors. For most of that time, the FBI paid him $2,000 a week, plus expenses. In total, the FBI paid him over a half a million dollars for this and other investigations nationwide -- from Ponzi schemes, to national security, to international fugitive cases.
Again, attorney McLindon.
“They had to set him up as a successful businessman, that was part of the sting operation. They put him up in a very nice condominium on St. Charles Avenue. They gave him a beautiful BMW, I think a 500 series BMW. They paid for his maid. They paid for his green fees at the golf courses. He had a membership at the House of Blues. They paid for every restaurant that he ate at. They paid for his dry cleaning. They paid everything.
“The government alleges that my client took about $3,400 worth of tickets and cash. They spent $5,000 on this guy's dry cleaning. It was crazy. It just got out of hand.”
This was 2010, the year the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl. Just before that, they were to play the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC Championship.
“There was an offer to go, again, to the biggest game in the history of Louisiana sports and to take his wife. And he did it. He did it. He succumbed to temptation. And I said to the jury, who in this courtroom has not succumbed to temptation?”
“I'm all for informants. What bothers me is entrapment. My client showed extreme reluctance and hesitation to do anything illegal. And he was overcome by William Myles. William Myles wore him down, tempted him, and my client finally succumbed. The government should not be in the business of manufacturing crime.”
Chief Brown didn't just take gifts from a businessman. In exchange for them, he ran confidential background checks at Myles' requests – the kind of checks reserved for law enforcement. He also wrote a letter to a Connecticut prosecutor on behalf of Myles' nephew who had gotten into trouble, saying that he knew the nephew when he was a boy and that he was a good kid. The problem was that Brown had never met the boy and he wrote the letter anyway. In fact, the FBI made the boy up.
In the end, Mayor Brown was convicted. Chief Brown was not.
Now, this week, Myles is again expected to take the stand – this time in the trial of another southwest Louisiana mayor wrapped up in a federal sting.
For WNPR, I’m Jeff Cohen in New Orleans.