Posted: Jul 26, 2011 5:33 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Federal jurors on Monday convicted a former New Orleans City Council member and state representative of conspiring with allies and family members of an ex-congressman to loot more than $1 million from charities run with taxpayer money.
The conviction of 56-year-old Renee Gill Pratt closed a chapter on the years-long investigations and prosecutions of allies of William Jefferson, the former longtime congressman from New Orleans and the first black from Louisiana since Reconstruction to sit in Congress.
Jefferson was convicted in 2009 on corruption charges in a wide-ranging investigation of his African business ties. He remains out of prison during his appeals.
Gill Pratt was found guilty of one count of racketeering and faces up to 20 years in prison and heavy fines. Sentencing was scheduled by U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle for Oct. 26. It was her second trial on the racketeering conspiracy charge after a hung jury led to a mistrial in February.
The conspiracy included diverting state appropriations that were meant to go for anti-drug counseling, help for teenage parents and adult education.
Prosecutors said that Gill Pratt and family members of Jefferson, including his brother and sister, used the money for themselves. William Jefferson was not charged in the case.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the conviction was another blow to corruption in Louisiana. Letten has waged numerous prosecutions to root out corruption among public officials in New Orleans and its suburbs.
"She was shamefully abusing her power as a public official," Letten said of Gill Pratt. "Imagine how much good that money (she stole) could have done for this community."
Outside court, Gill Pratt insisted on her innocence. "Justice was not done," she said. "I'm an innocent person and I'm the one that will have to pay for the Jeffersons."
Her lawyer, Michael Fawer, said she was "tarred by the brush of the Jeffersons."
Fawer also said Gill Pratt had sound grounds to appeal. He charged that blacks were unfairly kept off the jury and that prosecutors failed to provide adequate evidence to support their racketeering charge.
Gill Pratt was allowed to remain free on her own recognizance.