Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ex-Army Corps consultant indicted in bribery case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A former Army Corps of Engineers consultant and a dirt subcontractor were indicted Thursday on bribery charges stemming from an investigation into levee work after Hurricane Katrina.

Durwanda Elizabeth Morgan Heinrich, a dirt, sand and gravel subcontractor, was accused of conspiring with two former corps workers to get confidential bid information for a $16.8 million levee project southwest of New Orleans in September 2006.

In exchange, the indictment said, Heinrich promised to give the workers, Kern Carver Bernard Wilson and Raul Miranda, 25 cents for every cubic yard of material used to build levees near Lake Cataouatche.

The arrangement would have funneled $299,375 each to Wilson and Miranda, the Justice Department said.

Heinrich was charged by a federal grand jury in New Orleans with one count of conspiring to commit bribery and two counts of offering a bribe to a public official.

Wilson, who was working for the corps as a consultant on the levee enlargement project, was charged with one count of conspiring to commit bribery and one count of demanding and agreeing to accept a bribe as a public official.

Each faces a maximum of five years in prison and fines if convicted on the conspiracy charge and a maximum of 15 years in prison and fines on each bribery charge.

The Justice Department did not return calls seeking information on lawyers for those indicted, and phone listings could not be found for the accused.

Maj. Timothy Kurgan, a corps spokesman in New Orleans, declined to comment Thursday but said his agency had turned over information about alleged wrongdoing to the Army's criminal investigation division.

Miranda, who pleaded guilty in September to bribery, was a construction manager for Integrated Logistical Support Inc., a New Orleans civil engineering firm hired to help the corps manage some of its projects.

Miranda, 50, of Spring, Texas, faces up to 15 years in prison and heavy fines at sentencing in October.

The investigation surrounding the Lake Cataouatche project has been the only case of criminal wrongdoing in levee work so far prosecuted by the Justice Department.

After Katrina hit the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and killed more than 1,600 people, Congress gave the corps billions of dollars to repair damaged levees and upgrade others.

The Lake Cataouatche levees protect an area of suburbs and small towns on the western side of the Mississippi River.