HINGLE RESIGNSOct 11th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: top story
On Wednesday, October 5, Jiff Hingle relinquished his position as Plaquemines Parish Sheriff, which he held for nearly twenty years, as the case for fraud and bribery charges was officially filed by the U.S Attorneys Office. Following Hingle’s step-down, the Louisiana Secretary of State approved Chief Deputy Michael Lafrance as the acting sheriff for Plaquemines Parish.
Hingle had announced the departure from the Sheriff’s office before the Bill of Information—drafted by the U.S. Attorneys Office and signed by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, and detailing the bribery and mail fraud charges—was handed over. The Secretary of State’s office approved the resignation around noon that same day, and later the Secretary of State’s office approved the appointment of Lafrance as sheriff.
The Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s office had been under investigation by the Legislative Auditors Office earlier this year. Around the time the legislative auditors had completed their investigation, Hingle had announced he would not seek re-election this October.
Then, on October 5, the Office of the U.S. Attorney filed documents with the Eastern District Court of Louisiana citing Hingle for felony violations, including attempted mail fraud and bribery. Aaron Bennett was also implicated in the investigation, as was his corporation, Benetech LLC. On the list of charges, highlighted under the section denoted as “The Conspiracy,” are details of Bennett’s “$20,000 in payments intended to influence and reward Hingle in connection with Plaquemines Parish Sheriffs office transactions,” and other attempts by Hingle “to defraud his constituents and obtain money and property,” using his position as a public servant, according to the documents.
“Hingle, together with others known and unknown to the United States Attorney, did wilfully and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate and agree together and with each other to commit the following offences against the United States and to conceal their commission,” according to the Bill of Information signed by Letten.
Also included in the documents are information about Hingle signing over a check from the PPSO to Benetech for more than $333,000; a $10,000 payment from Bennett to Hingle for a contract, and approval of invoices from Benetech; and campaign finance reports submitted by Hingle to the Ethics Commission with gross omissions and misrepresentations.
The goal of these actions, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office, was, “To devise and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud his constituents and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretences …for the purpose of executing and attempting to execute such a scheme…”
Following the news of Hingle’s resignation, Rafael Goyeneche, who heads up the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC), said that there is still more to this story.
“I think today is the beginning of the next phase of this investigation,” Goyeneche said. “The federal government has been investigating the sheriff in Plaquemines Parish for a little over a year…and [those Bills of Information] were not indictments, which is a deviation from normal procedure, which means those individuals [Hingle and Bennett] are cooperating.”
Goyeneche had formally requested the legislative auditors investigate the personal credit card charges made by Sheriff Hingle, and the reimbursements Hingle had recouped from PPSO and the Jiff Hingle Campaign fund. The charges—which amount to $514,837.31 or averaging just under $130,000 a year for the four years—warranted review by the auditors, Goyeneche asserted.
“You have a sheriff skimming $100,000 from his war chest and accepting over $20,000 in bribes from Bennett,” Goyeneche continued. “So this, I believe is not the culmination of the investigation, but the beginning of the next phase, and the only way [Hingle] can mitigate is to provide information on other criminal cases.
“And now they’re both cooperating, and we’ll just have to wait to see how this unfolds.”
Also mentioned in the Bill of Information are invoices from a production company labelled “Company A,”— likely Robert Berning Productions, which was involved with the $175,000 video on coastal restoration that has never been aired. And while the company is cited, the documents do not implicate that company in any of the illegal activities.
In the wake of Hingle’s resignation, The Plaquemines Fraternal Order of Police Deep Delta Lodge #27 passed a resolution supporting the appointment Michael Lafrance as the new sheriff.
“Sheriff Lafrance, a 24 year veteran of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office, is well respected in the community and throughout the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office,” said a statement from the Plaquemines Fraternal Order of Police. “Rising through the ranks and appointed Chief Deputy by Sheriff Jiff Hingle in 2002, Sheriff Lafrance’s career path brings leadership and management qualities to the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office that will continue to ensure the delivery of professional law enforcement to the citizens of Plaquemines Parish. Sheriff Lafrance is dedicated to keeping Plaquemines a safe place to live, work and raise a family.”
Sheriff Hingle’s term was set to end on July 1, 2012. The sheriff-elect for the coming term will be selected by popular vote in the October 22 election—or any subsequent run-off race.
Hingle had been duly elected Sheriff for Plaquemines for nearly twenty years—since 1992. This September, when Hingle announced that he would not seek another term of office, a gamut of contenders and possible campaigns contemplated their own runs for office. Six candidates ended up qualifying for the race, and after one drop out (David Illg) the total stands at five (with Bill Bubrig, Lonnie Greco, Leo Pallazo, Terry Sercovich and former sheriff Ernest Wooton remaining on the ballot).