Louisiana Developer Pleads to Theft Linked to Katrina Aid

August 22, 2013

A Louisiana developer, whose family is a major supporter of Gov. Bobby Jindal, has pleaded guilty in a case involving the fraudulent billing of a Hurricane Katrina recovery program.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says 30-year-old Praveen Kailas entered the plea to one count each of conspiracy to commit theft of government funds and theft of government funds on Aug. 1. U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance unsealed the case Tuesday.

According to the court record, Kailas’ charges stem from his company – Lago Construction LLC – overbilling its construction monitoring subcontract for the Louisiana Road Home’s Small Rental Property Program which provided monetary assistance to property owners to repair properties damaged by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita.

U.S. Attorney Dana Boente, in a news release, said Kailas’ theft of funds began from the inception of Lago Construction’s subcontract which started June 6, 2011. The theft continued until on or about Nov. 16, 2012 as Kailas and others approved timesheets overstating the amount of hours other individuals worked on SRPP related activities.

Kailas admitted, in court documents, to the overbilling.

He faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count and up to 10 years on the theft charge. He also could pay up to twice the gain from the scheme, or about $472,000. Kailas’ attorney, Walter Becker, declined to comment. Sentencing is set for Nov. 13.

WWL-TV reports the Kailas family is one of the metropolitan New Orleans area’s biggest landowners and developers. They have been close with Jindal through southeast Louisiana’s small Indian community for years. The family has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Jindal’s campaigns over the years, including office space and supplies for his victory parties.

“We have no tolerance for fraud, which is why we moved swiftly and called for investigations by the State Inspector General and Attorney General, as well as the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Jindal’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “We appreciate today’s outcome and we support holding bad actors accountable for their actions, which is why we also added stronger controls to prevent this type of misconduct in the future.”

The governor’s office said it launched an internal investigation last year, but apparently dropped it after Mark Maier, the consultant who partnered with Lago on the rental program, wrote a note absolving Lago of any wrongdoing. The HUD inspector general, however, kept working the case and the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed charges under seal in late June.

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