Meffert: former Lafayette official in on kickback scheme

by Leslie Turk

Former New Orleans tech officer Greg Meffert claims in 2005 Keith Thibodeaux, his then-counterpart in Lafayette, sent a text message that proves Thibodeaux's involvement in a kickback scheme.

Testifying in New Orleans federal court last week, former New Orleans Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert said tech vendor Mark St. Pierre struck a quid pro quo in 2005 with then-Lafayette CTO Keith Thibodeaux, under which LCG would hire one of St. Pierre's companies, NetMethods, if Meffert would hire Thibodeaux's wife. St. Pierre is on trial for allegedly bribing two New Orleans technology chiefs in exchange for no-bid city contracts; he is charged with wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

The Times-Picayune reported:

Meffert also testified about the arrangement he and St. Pierre made with the former technology chief in Lafayette. Meffert said he struck out on a proposal to Lafayette tech chief Keith Thibodeaux to get St. Pierre's NetMethods business in the south-central Louisiana city, but St. Pierre came up with something that worked. "Keith texted me and said they had worked out a deal where Lafayette would hire NetMethods if I hired Keith's wife at the city (of New Orleans)," Meffert said. "I freaked out. I called him and said, That's great, but don't ever write something like that in a text. It's stupid.'"

For Lafayette city-parish officials - and anyone else who had been willing to give Thibodeaux the benefit of the doubt - that appears to be confirmation Thibodeaux not only knew of his wife's involvement but played a key role in lining up the work for her. Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, who also testified in the case earlier this week and was Thibodeaux's boss at the time, declined comment.

City-Parish President Joey Durel and Stanley acted swiftly in terminating Thibodeaux in October 2010, shortly after federal investigators informed them of his wife's contract with St. Pierre's company in New Orleans. Keith Thibodeaux has not been charged in the alleged kickback scheme. His attorney, Mike Skinner, declined to comment on Meffert's testimony.

But it's difficult to understand what motivation Meffert might have to lie at this point. He pleaded guilty in November to taking bribes from St. Pierre and faces a maximum of eight years in prison. He told jurors that he and St. Pierre had concocted stories about what they would say in case any issues arose in public questioning the deals, WWL reported.

Because Celeste Thibodeaux had no technology experience, Meffert testified that he came up with a position called "grant administrator" and paid her more than $90 an hour to work on the city's contract with St. Pierre-owned Imagine, The T-P reported. He said that because she lived in Lafayette, Celeste hardly ever went to New Orleans, except once every few weeks "just to show her face," the paper quoted him saying, noting Celeste made $236,000 in 14 months.

About the time Celeste was brought on board, Keith orchestrated a $45,000 contract between LCG and Meffert's company for technology consulting and got him paid quickly, documents show (Keith even processed the invoice before the contract was signed). City-parish records also reveal that Stanley and others questioned Thibodeaux several times about the pre-payment for services and what LCG was getting for its money - at one point prompting the following April 5, 2007, email response from a frustrated Thibodeaux: "Double check it, triple check it, put on memo form, stamp and send. This is the third time I have been chastised for this. Maybe it will be the last." In court, Stanley said after being contacted by the feds last year that he personally investigated how much work NetMethods did on the $45,000 contract. The result of his findings: "zero."

Thibodeaux then secured another contract for NetMethods to provide crime cameras - this one for $141,000.

Read more from the T-P, which has extensive coverage of the trial on its website, here.