- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Criminal charges against the former director of a nonprofit housing agency in New Orleans should be dropped because of racially inflammatory remarks an ex-prosecutor made about her case on a newspaper’s website, a defense lawyer argued in federal court Thursday.

The official, Stacey Jackson, was indicted last year on federal charges that she took kickbacks from contractors for New Orleans Affordable Housing, an agency she once headed.

Her lawyer, Edward Castaing, said the charges should be dismissed because of the once-anonymous remarks of former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, who resigned in 2012 after news surfaced of his online posts under a variety of names.

The remarks on Nola.com, the website of The Times-Picayune, date back to 2008, when news broke of the investigation of Jackson and the housing agency that worked with then-Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration.

A comment about the probe was posted under the name “campstblue.” The poster affected a black dialect, mocking Nagin’s widely criticized remark that New Orleans would again be a “chocolate” city as African-Americans returned after Hurricane Katrina.

“Translation: It’s our turn to steal,” said the posting, which turned out to be by Perricone.

Subsequent postings by Perricone dealt with black-on-black crime and questioned a white public official’s choice of a black lawyer. Castaing noted that the anonymous postings violated federal and state court rules and he cast them as a broad attempt to incite the public, including potential jurors, against black defendants.

“It affected the integrity of the proceedings,” he told U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Harper argued that Perricone was not part of the team that prosecuted Jackson, and that there is no evidence that the remarks influenced - or were ever seen by - members of the grand jury that indicted Jackson more than a year after Perricone resigned.

“He’s done nothing but speculate,” Harper said of Castaing.

Lemmon gave no indication when she would rule. Jackson is set for trial on July 21.

The agency Jackson headed, commonly called NOAH, was supposed to provide federally-financed house-gutting services after Hurricane Katrina but news reports in 2008 showed that the work was never completed. The scandal became a major embarrassment for Nagin, who left office in 2010. Nagin earlier this year was convicted of corruption involving other matters.

Jackson’s case is one of several federal criminal cases in which the online comments of prosecutors have come into play.

The most sensational involved the 2011 convictions of five police officers connected to deadly shootings of unarmed civilians in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt overturned the convictions, ruling that the case had been tainted by “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” by at least three government attorneys who posted anonymous online comments. Prosecutors have appealed that ruling while the officers await a new trial.