By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |
Appearing Thursday in federal court before Judge Nannette Jolivette-Brown, former New Orleans Affordable Homeownership contractor Earl Myers changed his plea from not guilty to guilty of conspiring to commit theft of federal funds.
Until the city agency was shut down in November, New Orleans Affordable Homeownership, also known as NOAH, operated as a non-profit and accepted federal funds to address blight. Revelation that NOAH funds were used to pay for fictitious or incomplete work amounted to one of the bigger city scandals of the post-Katrina era.
One of five contractors charged with misuse of federal funds, Myers had been awarded over $500,000for NOAH work. He operated variously as Excel Development and also as Myers and Sons.
Assistant U.S. attorney Fred Harper Jr., representing the federal government, presented the charges as outlined in a bill of information. The charges included “conspiracy to embezzle with “City Official A”, as well a accepting money for work not performed and falsifying records for submission to a federal grand jury.
The bill of information identifies City Official A as NOAH’s executive director. Stacey Jackson, who was NOAH’s executive director during the period in question, has not been charged in connection with the case.
City Official A issued checks to Myers and then asked him to cash them and give her the money, the bill of information says. Myers understanding was that if he failed to cooperate with City Official A, he would not be awarded additional work.
City Official A also paid Myers $90,000 to renovate property she owned on Sixth Street, according to the bill of information. A portion of the payment was made with funds belonging to NOAH, the bill asserts.
NOAH was awarded $880,000 in federal funds in each of the three years between 2005 to 2007.
Myers was indicted in March, along with Trellis Smith, Richard Hall, Jamon Dial and Shantrice Dial. Myers is the only one to date to have entered a plea.
Myers appeared with his attorney Richard Moore who later said his client changed his plea because he “just wanted to get it over with.”
Myers, 58, is in poor health, according to Moore, and has had multiple bypass surgeries. Moore said his client’s fragile health might impact sentencing, which is scheduled for July 17.
Myers faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Harper declined to comment on the government’s case.