NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Former St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain entered a not guilty plea to a 16-count federal indictment on Tuesday (Sept. 10) as lawyers, members of the media and spectators looked on.
Federal prosecutors accuse Strain of taking part in a kickback and bribery scheme related to a contract for privatizing a work release program in St. Tammany Parish.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says while Strain was still sheriff, he talked with two sheriff’s office employees about them becoming owners of a work release program in Slidell that Strain had decided to privatize.
Eventually, prosecutors say the two sheriff’s office employees agreed to make their adult children owners of the work release program, with the understanding that some of the profits would be funneled to Strain. Among the charges Strain faces are wire fraud and bribery.
Strain’s not guilty plea came during his first appearance in federal court on the new allegations.
FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said the not guilty plea was expected and considered a formality.
"Those are the federal rules. You have to kick the football in the air and that's what a not guilty plea is,” said Raspanti.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, if convicted, Strain faces a maximum of five years for Count 1, 20 years for each of Counts 2 through 13, and 10 years for each of Counts 14 through 16.
The federal magistrate who presided over Strain’s arraignment said he could remain free on a bond of $1 million but had to surrender his passport. A trial date of November 12 was set, but that could change.
The recent federal indictment is only a part of Strain’s legal troubles. He faces allegations of sex crimes in state court involving juveniles. Strain also pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Raspanti said all of the charges against Strain are serious.
"This is serious stuff. I will say that the St. Tammany Parish stuff is more serious than this, but that’s not to demean what’s going on in federal court. He’s looking at some lengthy time and the guidelines are driven by the amount of money and it’s well over a million dollars, so he’s looking at time measured in years certainly in federal court,” said Raspanti.