Hingle pleads guiltyDec 8th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: top story
Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle officially pled “Guilty” before a Judge to felony and corruption charges in the ongoing case involving himself and business owner Aaron Bennett.
Hingle plead before Eastern Louisiana District Judge Sara S. Vance on Wednesday, November 30. He is also said to have signed a plea agreement, which will be factored into his sentencing hearing, to take place in March 2012.
Bennett previously entered a plea for his charges as well.
Hingle and Bennett were both cited for felony investigations by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten this October. The Bills of Information released on Hingle and Bennett detailed charges of Bennett’s $20,000 in bribes to Hingle, given in exchange for favorable consideration of Bennett’s company, Benetech, in Sheriff’s office projects. This included the Parish Prison that Hingle broke ground on August 18 this year, just one week before he announced he would not seek office in the 2011 election.
“In addition, as the elected Sheriff, Hingle was required to file annual campaign reports with the Louisiana Board of Ethics in Baton Rouge… and to certify, among other things, information relating to campaign contributions and expenditures,” said the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “According to court documents, in 2008, Hingle solicited campaign contributions from contributors, and instead of expending those funds for campaign-related activities, Hingle expended them for personal use, in violation of Louisiana campaign finance laws.”
The bribery and fraud charges were then investigated by Federal agents and members of the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division.
“We have worked hard with our federal partners to obtain the guilty plea entered today,” said James C. Lee, who is Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation. Lee said his office is committed to pursuing all investigations, “that will bring an end to political corruption in the New Orleans area.”
“Today’s conviction of an elected sheriff on bribery and other corruption charges should serve as a reminder that the honest services of our public officials is a right which citizens enjoy and not a luxury,” Letten said. “On behalf of the citizens we serve, we will continue to demand integrity and honesty from everyone who takes an oath to serve the public, and we will relentlessly pursue those who violate their public duties.”
Hingle is facing a maximum of five years imprisonment, or a fine of $250,000, with an additional three years of supervised release following any time served, according to the U.S. Attorney Letten’s office.
The sentencing is scheduled for March 7, 2012 at 9:30 a.m.
Rafael Goyeneche—the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) President whose audit and subsequent inquiry this June outlined and called into question many monetary reimbursements Hingle received as Sheriff— was mixed in his response.
“It’s a sad ending to a career,” Goyeneche said. “He won’t be remembered as a five-term Sheriff, but as one that went to the federal penitentiary.”
But Goyeneche said there is still a chance for Hingle’s redemption.
“So, even though [Hingle] betrayed the public trust, he could still make amends by disclosing any information on [other] corruption in Plaquemines Parish,” Goyeneche said. “That is the only thing that will mitigate his time served.”
Hingle originally plead “not guilty,” on October 14, after the felony charges of corruption were officially filed. The 59-year-old elected official had served as the Sheriff in Plaquemines since 1992, until he stepped down from office in 2011. Hingle was replaced by interim-Sheriff Michael Lafrance. That position will be fulfilled by Sheriff-elect Lonnie Greco, who recently won his runoff race against candidate Bill Bubrig on November 19.