SW&B conspirators still unpunished
Lack of transcript delays sentencing

Saturday July 12, 2003

By Martha Carr
Staff writer

It's been more than a year since former New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board member Katherine Maraldo and Michael Stump, the man accused of bribing her, were convicted on federal conspiracy charges.

But the pair have yet to be punished for their crimes.

That's because the court reporter assigned to record the three-week trial has failed to produce a transcript.

According to federal documents filed in Texas Southern District Court in Houston, court reporter Jackie Smith promised defense attorneys she would turn over the transcript in March. But as of last month, it still was not finished, records show.

So, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt postponed Maraldo and Stump's sentencing until Sept. 22. It was the sixth time the sentencing has been put off since the two were convicted last June.

"It is unusual," said Maraldo's defense attorney, Martin Regan. "But I know she (Smith) is working diligently to produce it."

This isn't the first time Smith has had problems doing her job.

The Houston-based court reporter spent a week in jail in March for failing to complete transcripts for other cases in her care, records show. Several of the transcripts that she did finish were rife with errors, said Chief Deputy Clerk David Bradley.

Smith resigned last September, but has a statutory duty to produce records for the trials she worked, he said.

"She did have difficulty getting transcripts done," Bradley said. "But Judge Hoyt has communicated with (her) and I'm sure the date he postponed the sentencing to is the date he feels certain the transcript will be made available."

The transcript is a key element in the appeals process. If an accurate transcript cannot be produced, defense attorneys could seek a new trial.

Stump and Maraldo, who were found guilty of one count of conspiracy and three counts of mail fraud, face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count. However, first-time offenders rarely receive the maximum sentence.

Regan said he is planning to file a motion for a new trial on behalf of Maraldo, but did not say if it was related to the transcript problems. Attorneys in at least one other high-profile bribery case are pushing for a new trial because of egregious errors in Smith's transcripts, Bradley said.

Stump was convicted last June of using money from Professional Services Group to buy Maraldo's support for a five-year extension to the company's contract in the mid-1990s. At the time, PSG had a multimillion- dollar contract to run the city's two wastewater-treatment plants. Maraldo was
chairwoman of a committee with oversight of the contract. Despite the fact that the crime occurred in New Orleans, the case was prosecuted in Houston, where PSG was based.

According to prosecutors, PSG paid nearly $72,000 to Maraldo's partner in a pricey real estate project they were having trouble selling, and disguised some payments as employee travel reimbursements. The company also tried to find a buyer for the property at an inflated price, paid Maraldo's legal bills in a personal lawsuit against the board, and paid for attorney Sal Anzelmo to provide legal help in Maraldo's attempt to unload the property in the Oak Harbor development near Slidell.

In exchange, Maraldo used her position as chairwoman of the board's sewer and water committee to push for a five-year extension, the prosecution said. The proposal had the support of the board's staff and passed Maraldo's committee, but never gained the support of the full board.

The contract is now held by USFilter, which intends to bid onthe far larger privatization contract to run New Orleans' water and sewer systems.

USFilter, which was not accused of wrongdoing, was acquired by Vivendi, parent company to PSG and its holding company Aqua Alliance, in 1999, and started running the New Orleans treatment plants as part of the contract.