Former Louisiana Town Mayor Sentenced in Fraud Scheme

May 25, 2011

Former Ball Mayor Roy Hebron on Monday was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison for his role as the “primary instigator” in the town’s fraudulent receipt of disaster-cleanup money after Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

“I am truly sorry,” Hebron, 56, said in U.S. District Judge Dee Drell’s courtroom in Alexandria. The room was filled with Hebron supporters, who remained silent as Drell announced the four-year sentence. Drell said the sentence provides no chance for early release.

Hebron was first elected mayor of Ball in 1986. He resigned from the office in February when he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Drell ordered Hebron to pay $105,566 in restitution to FEMA, and levied a $25,000 fine. Hebron will report June 27 to a federal penitentiary. One of his attorneys, Jay Hurst of Durham, N.C., requested that Hebron be placed in the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, Fla., a minimum-security facility, or in the Oakdale Correctional Complex, which also houses inmates with low security risks.

Though prosecutors never claimed Hebron directly received FEMA money from the fraud, they noted that he received payments from the town of Ball after Gustav, an indirect bonus.

Drell said Hebron was the “primary instigator” in a scheme to enrich town of Ball employees and make the 24-year mayor more popular among voters.

The popularity was evident in 2010 when voters elected Hebron in runaway fashion to a seventh term in office even though he awaited trial on felony charges.

“What he in essence did is freely give money away,” Drell said. “It was begun by him and masterminded by him.”

“He put every employee at risk of prosecution,” Drell said.

Ball employees received overtime pay for work they didn’t do, and the town charged FEMA for equipment that was never used. Prosecutors estimated FEMA overpaid Ball by more than $300,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cytheria Jernigan said some town employees felt they had no choice but to participate in defrauding FEMA because of Hebron’s dominant sway over them.

She said employees had to decide “do I keep my job and go along with what he says, or do I go against this elected official who’s been in office for more than 20 years.”

Drell said he received many letters from Hebron supporters who asked for leniency in sentencing. The judge said he considered the support and the good Hebron has done for the small Rapides Parish town near the Grant Parish border.

Drell said he also considered the harm Hebron did.

“The best descriptive word I can apply in this case is ‘sad,”‘ Drell said.

Hurst, an attorney who specializes in federal sentencings, joined Hebron’s other attorneys, Mike Small and Henry Lemoine.

Hurst said they would talk to Hebron before deciding whether to appeal the sentence.

Hebron, Police Chief Jay Barber, Town Clerk Brenda Kimball, police employee Judy Marie Crowe and Police Officer Curtis Akins were indicted in September 2009 on multiple counts of federal fraud charges. All of them pleaded guilty this year.

On May 6, Kimball was sentenced to nine months in prison; the rest received probation. Only Akins remains employed by Ball.

Police employee LaVerne James was charged in a bill of information in 2009 and pleaded guilty that same year. She too received probation earlier this month.

Jernigan on Monday showed some of the evidence of the fraud: equipment time sheets used to bill FEMA claimed Kimball, the town clerk, drove a pickup truck pulling a trailer 10 hours a day for three weeks during the post-Gustav cleanup. Kimball is going to prison for her role as the chief liaison between the town and FEMA who knowingly submitted fraudulent invoices.

In the September 2009 indictments, Hebron and Kimball were also charged with fraud for cleanup work done after Hurricane Rita in 2005, though the conspiracy charge that both pleaded guilty to involved work after Gustav.

Jernigan said Ball’s success in defrauding FEMA after Rita “emboldened” Hebron to go “full throttle” after Gustav.

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