Defense witnesses might as well have been prosecution's
BATON ROUGE - Ever since prosecution rested their case and defense picked it up, all of the defense witnesses in the corruption trial of former mayor of St. Gabriel actually scored points for team prosecution Thursday.
Defense first called in Phil Canova, city attorney for St. Gabriel. Lewis O. Unglesby tried to get Canova to say Grace was a part-time mayor, allowing him to have outside work. But Canova's opinion of a "part time" mayor didn't match up with Unglesby's hope for what he'd say. But when prosecution cross-examined him, he solidified that the town charter called for a full-time mayor.
In Unglesby's redirect, he wanted to know if it is unusual for a mayor to aggressively try to sell city property in the city, though the mayor of St. Gabriel does not control zoning. Canova responded with a "yes", proving Marionneaux's point that Grace wasn't in the wrong for trying to sell property he owned or did not own in the city of St. Gabriel.
Kevin Ambeau, St. Gabriel Police Chief was the next defense witness called to the stand. Ambeau expressed his duties as a police chief, saying it is his responsibility to report local crimes to other authorities. Rob Marionneaux confronted Ambeau about giving information to the FBI about George Grace, which started the investigation. Ambeau admitted to to that. During cross-examination of prosecution, U.S. Assistant Attorney Corey Amundson asked, "Is it your obligation to report to other authorities, such as the FBI, after reports from St. Gabriel citizens that the mayor is performing criminal activities in your city?" Ambeau said yes.
Amundson then asked if citizens in St. Gabriel were fired if they didn't go along with Grace's criminal acts. Ambeau said he knew of six employees who were fired after reporting Grace's acts. Ambeau said Grace could not fire him because he is an elected police chief.
"Did you know he was using his power as mayor to get a trailer park in St. Gabriel?" asked Amundson. "Yes," Ambeau replied. "Did you know he was using his power as mayor to direct workers to his property without city council approval?" "Yes," replied Ambeau.
Ambeau recalled a story a citizen told him, where a former truck stop owner in St. Gabriel said he paid Grace to let him keep the truck stop. Ambeau said the man reported, "George Grace turned me upside down and took my life savings and then turned around and gave the truck stop to the other guy."
Amundson asked Ambeau if city employees were scared for their jobs. Ambeau said yes.
Amundson asked even more questions, as George Grace scrunched his face acting as if he never heard the words coming out of Ambeau's mouth. "Did George Grace know you reported the claims to the FBI?" Ambeau replied, "Yes. He says I'm the cause of the investigation." Amundson asked, "What do you think is the real cause, knowing what you know?" Ambeau replied, "His love for money, that's why he's sitting here today."
Before court resumed today there were issues that needed to be cleared up about Darin McAllister not testifying in the corruption trial. Lewis O. Unglesby said, "The government has a distinct advantage now. We're trying to balance the see-saw."
Darin McAllister, former FBI agent also known as DJ, posed as the financier for fake trash can cleaning company, Cifer 5000. Since the FBI sting that resulted in other former mayors' convictions, McAllister has been charged and convicted on felony fraud counts in Nashville, Tennessee. The two cases are unrelated.
Though the defense says they're at a disadvantage for not being able to call in a pivotal defense witness in the case, Ms. Jones with prosecution says they are at an equal disadvantage. "I am certain McAllister's testimony would be favorable to the U.S.," said Jones.
Judge Hicks does not want the jury to know at this time that McAllister is a convicted felon, since he is an agent in the FBI sting, "Operation: Blighted Officials". "Right now the answer to this issue is to not make comments as to where McAllister is and why he is not testifying. We will find a part B remedy to this unusual situation," said Hicks.
Grace, 68, is on trial fighting charges of racketeering, extortion and fraud that resulted from his alleged acceptance of approximately $15,000 in cash and other gifts in exchange for his promise to help William Myles win municipal contracts for the can-cleaning service, Cifer 5000.