- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The vice president of the City Council, once thought to be a likely candidate for mayor in 2010, pleaded guilty yesterday to taking $15,000 in bribes from a prominent businessman and resigned from the council.

Council member Oliver Thomas apologized at a press conference and said he hoped his troubles do not become a distraction to the Hurricane Katrina recovery.

“I’m sorry I didn’t live up to the faith you put in me,” he said. “It was wrong, and I accept full responsibility for this action and for using incredibly poor judgment.”

Thomas, 50, was released on $25,000 bond, pending sentencing on Nov. 14, when he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He also said his resignation was effective immediately after 13 years on the City Council.

He pleaded guilty to taking the money from Stan “Pampy” Barre, a member of former Mayor Marc Morial’s inner circle and a key figure in a long-standing federal investigation into City Hall corruption.

Barre is cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty in a separate case. Mr. Morial, now the president of the National Urban League, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten told reporters that Barre contacted Thomas in early 2002 for help in maintaining a contract to operate two parking lots near the French Quarter.

Mr. Morial’s second term was coming to an end, and he could not legally seek a third consecutive term. Barre was concerned that a pending change in administrations would lead to his loss of the contract.

Thomas had influence as a council member and as a member of the French Market Corp., a city agency that owns and manages the buildings at the edge of the French Quarter. Barre’s contract was with the corporation.

In the separate case, Barre pleaded guilty in January to plotting to skim more than $1 million from a $64 million, 20-year contract for energy-management services signed in the last days of Mr. Morial’s administration in 2002.

Thomas‘ troubles come as the city continues to struggle with recovery from Katrina almost two years ago. The City Hall investigation and a years-long probe of the city school system have netted numerous guilty pleas, including other members of Mr. Morial’s inner circle.

Barre funneled payments to Thomas through a middle man, Joseph Jourdain, Mr. Letten said. Jourdain, described in court documents as a friend of Thomas, pleaded guilty in the case earlier this month under a deal kept secret until yesterday.

Jourdain received several thousand dollars in kickbacks, some of which were funneled to Thomas, court documents said.

“My greatest hope is that I will not become a distraction to the thousands of people who are trying to recover their lives, their families and their homes,” Thomas told reporters.