New details: Contractor recorded talks with Roger Ladner in Hancock County kickback scheme

Sea Coast EchoJuly 11, 2014 

BAY ST. LOUIS -- New details have emerged in the case of former Hancock County Road Manager Roger Ladner, including revelations a local contractor involved in the case cooperated with authorities and wore a wire to record conversations with Ladner.

Ladner, his wife and two of his brothers pleaded guilty in December 2012 to various charges stemming from a kickback scheme related to ditch-cleaning contracts after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

Ladner was sentenced to five years in federal prison and is incarcerated in Arkansas, according to court records.

In 2013, he petitioned the court to vacate his sentence and set him free.

He claimed he had bad advice from his attorney and did not fully understand what the plea deal entailed.

In June, federal Judge Sul Ozerden denied Ladner's request to vacate his sentence and another request to return part of the money Ladner had forfeited to the government.

In his order, Ozerden laid out his reasons Ladner's request should be denied, but also detailed some evidence in the case that has yet to be made public.

According to the order, prosecutors told Ladner they would recommend he be sentenced in the "bottom 25 percent" of the sentence range if he pleaded guilty. That meant Ladner would receive a much more lenient sentence than the five-year maximum.

Judges, however, are not obligated to accept prosecutors' recommendations and Ozerden decided to sentence Ladner to the maximum.

Ozerden said his decision to sentence was influenced by several factors, including Ladner's attempts to "conceal the scheme and mislead federal investigators."

The judge pointed to evidence in which a cooperating government witness secretly recorded Ladner discussing how to "get away with it."

"(Ladner) became aware of a state and federal investigation into his conduct through another contractor who, unbeknownst to him, was cooperating with the government," Ozerden wrote.

"Recorded conversations between the two reveal that Ladner was fully aware that he was engaging in criminal conduct and that he told contractor to lie to authorities about Ladner's receipt of proceeds from the ditch-cleaning contracts."

Ladner signed documents saying he was voluntarily pleading guilty and was waiving any rights of appeal. Last week, Ladner informed the court he would be appealing Ozerden's decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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