SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Former Caddo Parish Commissioner Michael Williams has been sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for defrauding the Caddo Parish Commission and stealing from a non-profit meant to help at-risk youth.
Williams, 55, was found guilty on 11 counts of wire fraud back in March after a 4-day trial.
According to evidence presented at the trial, from October 1, 2012 through July 1, 2014, Williams devised a scheme to take more than $8,000 from the SWAG Nation's bank account, which he helped create.
Williams faced up to 20 years in prison, 5 years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for each count.
Williams' attorney Elton Richey asked the judge to reduce the restitution amount that Williams would pay. The conversation led to the judge asking who the victim in this crime is. "Is the victim society? Or is it the Caddo Commission?" Judge Maurice Hicks questioned.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Jarzabek argued the Caddo Commission is the victim. Williams "basically paid himself for his vote," Jarzabek told the judge. "If he had disclosed his involvement [with SWAG Nation] no money would have been given," referring to statements made during the trial by other commissioners, who stated they would not have voted to allocate money to SWAG Nation had they known some of the money would have been given to Williams.
"The Caddo Commission's lack of auditing, lack of due diligence, lack of oversight is appalling to this court," Judge Hicks said, in referring to the fact that prior to the vote to fund SWAG Nation, nobody on the commission discovered Williams helped create the group.
During the hearing, it was disclosed that Caddo Parish Commission Attorney Henry Bernstein told an investigator in a phone conversation that the commission was not the victim and essentially did not need restitution.
"I find that disingenuous at best," Judge Hicks said. "I question whether the Caddo Parish Commission is setting a precedence for future acts like this one?" Jarzabek responded saying, the Caddo Parish Commission did not say in writing that they are not the victim of the crime.
Jarzabek called Caddo Parish Commission Attorney Donna Frazier as a witness. While on the stand, she admitted it would take a resolution voted on by the commission majority to take a position. When Judge Hicks asked her if she had been asked by anyone to draft a resolution to not accept the restitution, she said no. The judge ultimately ruled the Caddo Parish Commission is considered the victim and restitution would be paid to the commission. "The jury found the commission the victim. Until that is undone, that is the status of the case," Hicks said.
Moments before the judge took a brief recess to consider the sentence, Williams stood in court and apologized for his actions.
"To the court and my family, I apologize to the community for my misconduct," he said. He then asked the judge for a probated sentence, saying he could use the time to do good for the community.
"I am dedicated to calm and peaceful dialogue in our community," he told the judge.
Just before 5 p.m., Williams was sentenced to 14 months to be served in a federal correctional facility, although he will be able to get out early with good conduct. He will also have to continue on 3 years of supervised release upon his release from prison.
He was also ordered to pay $8,584.68 in restitution immediately to the Caddo Parish Commission, plus a $10,000 fine as well as pay $1,100 into the Victim's Assistance Fund.
Following the sentencing, Williams apologized for putting himself in the position "to even be able to be put in this scenario," he said. "I apologize to the commissioners, people in the community, to the preachers, to the politicians, to Shreveport to let them know I still love them and still have the desire to serve."
Williams also added he is not pleased with the outcome of the sentencing hearing.
"I like all the work we've done in this community together with the SWAG Nation. We've done a lot of good in this community. I just want to say to the public that surely I am sorry about the outcome today."
When asked whether there would be an appeal, Richey said he and Williams would take the next couple of days to review their options.
Williams has been ordered to report to prison by 2 p.m. on August 29.