Mark Titus on my mind…….

It has been close to a month since Mark Titus stopped in with us to tell his side of things in USA v Titus and since then he has reported to prison at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex, likely at the Detention Center facility there.  I mention this because Mark and I continued communicating, albeit off the record, until the day he reported to prison last week to pay his debt to society.  Since I have a small bit of experience seeing the impacts of incarceration first hand I’m not naturally disposed to throw rotten tomatoes at anyone headed to the pokey, especially on a 5 year sentence when such is considered in light of the extremely lenient plea deals cut by Tim Whitmer and Tom Wilkinson, both integral players in the landfill monopoly scheme at the heart of the Jefferson Parish corruption scandal.

For those of you that are new a bit of history is in order.  In September 2010, armed with search warrants, the FBI raided the corporate headquarters of the River Birch Landfill.  Slabbed followed along with the related litigation in what I consider some of my former partner in blog Nowdy’s finest work on Jefferson Parish corruption.  Among the documents nabbed included “evidence of other crimes”. One of those other crimes was a scheme to defraud construction company Garner Services of one million dollars.  The two named conspirators in this scheme are Titus and his brother-in-law Dominick “Big D” Fazzio, who also happens to be the Chief Financial Officer of the Landfill.  That business association has been the bane of Titus’ existence ever since and lacking the means to fight a strong government case against him Titus cut a plea deal and wore a wire on his brother-in-law.  The transcripts of those conversations leads one to the natural conclusion Titus thought his brother-in-law was in the mafia.

Fazzio has vigorously defended himself against those charges, and in a bad twist for Titus, Assistant US Attorney Sal Perricone was outed by Fred Heebe for posting comments about the case on NOLA.com and Jim Letten’s office was recused from the cases tainted by Perricone’s online activities including the case and plea deal with Titus.  The events since have their roots in the Perricone debacle.

I mention this because the new team of Federal Prosecutors from the Public Integrity Division of Department of Justice out of Washington DC are reputed to be completely ruthless and they are enforcing Titus’ plea deal to the letter of the agreement, which evidently did not include the side assurances Titus said he received from Perricone on the forfeiture of the ill-gotten gains.  After examining the evidence presented to this point and after considering the observations of certain well placed observers, it is my belief Titus did indeed have a sidecar with Perricone on the forfeiture issue.  This snippet from Manuel Torres story on the hearing held last week in the Fazzio case alludes to the fact that Judge Ginger is thinking along those same lines:

In her two-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan said some evidence at a hearing Wednesday alleging misconduct in U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office “was credible and therefore disturbing.”

The stinging phrase referred to part of an affidavit by Tim Wilson Sr., a Houston private investigator who took the stand Wednesday. Wilson’s main assertion was that former prosecutor Sal Perricone and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Mann expressed in 2011 an undisclosed verbal understanding that the government wouldn’t seize defendant Mark Titus’ properties.

Titus, who was cooperating against Fazzio at the time, is due to begin a five-year prison sentence Friday.

Prosecutors have denied that there was any secret agreement with Titus. And Berrigan’s order Thursday said other parts of Wilson’s affidavit “were simply not credible.” She didn’t indicate which parts she found credible.

IMHO she found the verbal sidecar to be the credible portion of the affidavit for reasons I can not disclose.

At the end of the day the justice system is many things and to those caught within a conspiracy, “fair” is not one of those many things.  Had it not been for Titus’ relationship with Big D, I imagine the government would not have been so keen to prosecute an owner looting out his business and that is what happened. Worth noting is Garner Services owner and previously in the clear Ed Garner, is now in the government’s cross hairs.

For Fazzio, his brother-in-law is the gift that keeps giving as evidence of the side agreement with Titus will certainly be employed by the defense in USA v Fazzio in the upcoming trial,  slated to begin next month.  It is unclear whether the Titus plea deal precludes any new charges against him but as things stand now, Team Fazzio will be joined at the defense table by his brother-in-law, who will remain in custody for the duration.  In this case, a bit player in the larger drama is the only one crushed thus far.

16 thoughts on “Mark Titus on my mind…….”

  1. Sorry not buying it Judge Berrigan also said portions were totally unbelievable which IMHO would refer to the mandatory sentencing guidelines on the link provided and the written testimony of the probation office which so far has been undisclosed . Titus can not adequately explain why he was transferring the property prior to his claiming that a deal existed and if lay down with dogs one can expect to get fleas. What is now taking place with the DOJ

    1. Tom explain to me why the Team Letten immediately nabbed the loot Fazzio had but did not seize the $$$$$ Titus had banked?

      When there are conflciting accounts I personally look at the actions taken by the parties to the dispute. There are lots of little factoids like that one that strongly indicate the side agreement was in place.

      Wilson swore in his affidavit he was not paid to submit it yet he got lots of money from Team Titus. That is different from a straight out quid pro quo but the general feeling is Berrigan disregarded the notion Wilson was not compensated.

      1. Doug ,
        The one problem that Titus story has is the probation office puts together the sentencing recommendations according to the mandatory guidelines the prosecution can only request that those guidelines not be followed and would have to have a good explanation to the judge on why and it still would be up to the judges discretion on sentencing . Both Titus and his attorney would have to know this. Get a hold of the probation officers recommendations and written testimony if you still do not agree with the congressional report that I gave you and remember that Titus claimed the probation officer was to testify on his behalf , what happened to that ?

  2. For every 500 caught up in the loop, occasionally one will have to do a measly 5 year sentence in OAKDALE Correctional Facility which is a FAR CRY from ANGOLA, where the regular people do time. Considering the vast amount of stolen money that is kept among those who are NOT held accountable….
    One’s Gotta SCREAM…

    I’m mad as HELL & I’m NOT going to take this anymore!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGIY5Vyj4YM

  3. The Titus and Government tango … the gift that keeps on giving:

    River Birch executive Dominick Fazzio seeking separate trial from co-defendant Mark Titus
    http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2012/11/river_birch_executive_dominick.html#incart_river_default

    “In a motion filed Tuesday, Fazzio’s attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, said this is a “he said/he said” case”

    Lemann said no single act joins the two alleged schemes, and that the government threw the, together, “like the kitchen sink,” just to “shore its thin evidence.”

  4. Manuel Torres, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
    “Buddy” Lemann is not known for his modesty, but when we talked he sounded more confident than usual, basically predicting a W on this one.

    JPchiper
    Manuel two problems with that thought, don’t the recordings Titus handed over to the FBI of his conversations with Fazzio entwines the case which would not require his testimony? Also wouldn’t Titus refusal to cooperate violate his plea bargain agreement which would be the reason for the additional charges by prosecutors and of Titus obtaining a reduced sentence ? Any thoughts on those ?

    1. Tom

      Long ago when this case first broke and Fazzio’s first lawyer was DQ’d by Judge Ginger, I mentioned Lemann’s name and said then I thought he was a damn good criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer whose opinions I trust let me know his peers thought that Lemann had lost his game thus I was steppin’ out extolling Buddy. Same person then offered their opinion that said they liked what Lemann was doing in Fazzio. I suspect Big D is a satisfied customer as well.

      Think about this, Fazzio is the guy the Feds want yet his brother in law is the guy getting crushed. To the extent Titus stepped out and wore a wire there is a certain irony to the fact that Titus sits in prison and his family is likely going to lose a lifetime of work while Big D benefits legally from the side deal Titus claims Perricone made him.

      You want screwed up? Sal Perricone playing on the internet got the guy who helped the government 5 years in the pokey and he loses all his possession while the wise guy walks. That is the outcome you are defending when you blindly defend the actions of Team Letten Tom.

      If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. ~ Atticus Finch

        1. Tom I think you’ll find Titus has manned up to what he did when he took that plea so this isn’t a question of him going back on that as much as he wants the entire deal he cut enforced.

          When Fazzio walks maybe then the US Attorney will figure out that he doesn’t give a shit his brother in law now resides in the pen. The continued crushing of Mark Titus accomplishes nothing toward the goal of nabbing Team River Birch that I can see.

          1. Lie? You mean the whopper Perricone told Errol in August about not remembering posting as CampStBlue?

            There is lots of conflicting information Tom. When there is a $1MM forfeiture (joint and several) the prosecutor actually has great latitude how to divide the pie. Titus’ testimony does not rule out the sidecar.

            The bottom line is while I want to see the place cleaned up as badly as the next guy I’m not willing to sanction misconduct by the prosecutors to accomplish the goal. Perricone and Mann’s playing on the internet has a price. For Titus it is a terrible price. For Fazzio they could not have helped the man more if they had tried.

  5. surprised no one here seems to think that Big D and Heebe might have had the two chatty cathys in Lettens office on the payroll the whole time just to cause this kind of trouble for a potental court case…..seems like the level of douchebaggery that these boys are known for……just throwing that out there….

    1. There is another douchbagery payroll possibility that people seem to be forgetting, just like Garlandgate there could be a mole in the TP? The PR game by Team Heebe is unprecedented and certainly a TP employee would have access to the IP addresses and possibly even the real email addresses of all bloggers . And Doug I do not nor have I ever said the blogging was ok however I find Titus reaching out openly on slabbed to have been more of a PR stunt that Team Heebe could enjoy since Mr. Torres just happened to be crusing the site to creat a story on . Even if Fazzio is wanting now to flip because of Hank Ton question is will the prosecutors trust him ? Titus could wind up actually being the one screwing Fazzio, and again that would be good for Team Heebe , only time will tell ?

  6. Opps !

    FBI informant feels betrayed by his partner in crime
    Published: Sunday, May 06, 2012, 6:35 AM
    By Paul Rioux, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune
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    In a series of FBI interviews in the past year, Mark J. Titus sang like the proverbial canary. He admitted creating phony invoices to embezzle nearly $1 million from a New Orleans construction management firm he co-owns and runs. He acknowledged that the firm, Garner Services, qualified for tens of millions of dollars in government contracts by representing itself as a disabled veteran-owned business, even though the veteran, Ed Garner, was not involved in daily business operations as required.

    View full sizeMichael DeMocker, Times-Picayune archiveWhen two FBI agents first knocked on his door a year ago, Titus didn’t put up much of a fight before confessing to looting Garner Services.
    Titus, 49, also admitted receiving a $238,000 kickback from a subcontractor and confessed to paying a $65,000 bribe to a former Small Business Administration official for helping Garner Services get a $19 million Army Corps of Engineers contract in Indiana.

    And to top it all off, he said he didn’t pay a penny in income taxes on his ill-gotten gains, according to recently unsealed FBI summaries of six interviews with Titus.

    Following the laundry list of admissions, prosecutors charged Titus with a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The charge is part of a plea deal in which he agreed to help build a case against his alleged accomplice in the embezzlement scheme, his brother-in-law Dominick Fazzio, who is the River Birch landfill’s chief financial officer.

    Attorneys for Fazzio — who faces 22 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering — contend prosecutors gave Titus a sweetheart deal in an overzealous quest to pressure Fazzio to cooperate in a sweeping investigation of his bosses, River Birch owners Fred Heebe and Heebe’s stepfather, Jim Ward.

    The Fazzio case, scheduled for trial July 23, will be an early test of the government’s aggressive strategy in going after Heebe and Ward, including a willingness to risk the appearance of going easy on Titus to increase the chances of a major conviction down the road in the River Birch probe.

    In court papers filed last month seeking to dismiss Fazzio’s charges, attorney Arthur “Buddy” Lemann III noted that Titus referred to Fazzio as his “get out of jail free card” during a recorded conversation. Lemann also emphasized that of the five people Titus identified as accomplices in his various confessed schemes, Fazzio is the only one to be indicted.

    Accusing prosecutors of singling out Fazzio in retaliation for his refusal to cooperate in the River Birch probe, Lemann vowed to put the credibility of the government’s star witness on trial.

    “Titus is going to go down like the Titanic in a sea of his own deceptions,” Lemann said.

    Attorneys for Titus could not be reached for comment.

    U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office has declined to comment on the Fazzio case after recusing itself two weeks ago from all criminal cases linked to the investigation of the Waggaman landfill. Letten did not give a reason for the recusal. But it is clearly linked to Heebe’s unmasking of former prosecutor Sal Perricone as “Henry L. Mencken1951,” a prolific commenter on NOLA.com who often smeared targets of his cases, including Fazzio and Heebe.

    In response to previous accusations that they had gone easy on Titus, prosecutors said Titus, who has a high school education, lacked the sophistication to pull off the embezzlement scheme by himself. They said Fazzio, who is married to Titus’ sister, was the mastermind behind a money-laundering operation involving two alleged shell companies under his control.

    The plea deal requires Titus, who faces up to five years in prison, to pay nearly $1 million in restitution as well as back taxes and IRS penalties on the proceeds. But Garner Services, with Titus still at the helm, remains eligible to receive government contracts despite Titus’ bribery admission in connection with the corps contract.

    U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan had ordered the FBI’s notes from the Titus interviews unsealed in response to an earlier motion by Fazzio to dismiss the charges based on prosecutorial misconduct allegations. The judge rejected that claim, finding there was “no government misconduct whatsoever.”

    The embezzlement scheme

    When two FBI agents first knocked on his door a year ago, Titus didn’t put up much of a fight before confessing to looting Garner Services. Titus said the embezzlement scheme was his idea and that Fazzio told him how to do it by approving fake invoices that were paid to Fazzio’s companies.

    “Titus told Fazzio he could keep however much of the money he wanted, thinking he would keep about 50 percent, then send him the rest,” FBI agents wrote in a summary of Titus’ first interview last May. “He was surprised over the course of the scheme that Fazzio only kept approximately 10 percent to 15 percent of the proceeds.”

    Fazzio’s attorneys have said Titus got more than $850,000 while Fazzio received $47,000 for legitimate consulting and accounting work that he reported as income on his taxes. But prosecutors called Fazzio’s companies “straw entities that had no actual business purpose.”

    Titus told FBI agents the scheme was designed to tap into a $3.5 million profit Garner Services made on a $19 million Corps of Engineers contract in 2009 to renovate a pump station in Hammond, Ind.

    Titus said he paid a $65,000 to $75,000 bribe to Gale Hasler, the wife of former SBA official Michael Hasler, for her husband’s help in securing the contract, which was the largest the company had ever received, according to the FBI notes.

    Titus said Michael Hasler, who was based in Indianapolis, used his influence with the corps to negotiate a $1 million increase in the contract amount. To conceal the alleged bribe, Titus said the check from Garner Services was made out to Gale Hasler for financial planning services that she never provided.

    Michael Hasler, who has since retired and moved to Texas, denied the bribery allegation in a phone interview.

    “This is utterly ridiculous,” Hasler said. “I had no ability to swing a contract for this guy. I did not help him at all.”

    Hasler, who said he has been interviewed by the FBI, said the payment his wife received from Garner Services was for bookkeeping work she had done years earlier for a construction company run by Vance Kenny, an Indiana man who worked for Garner Services.

    Hasler said Kenny’s company went bankrupt before Kenny could pay his wife, so Kenny settled the debt later by having Garner Services send her a check for the amount Kenny was due to receive for the pump station project.

    Officials with the corps’ Chicago District, which oversaw the pump station project, declined to say whether Hasler was involved in contract negotiations between the corps and Garner Services. An SBA spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on the matter.

    Titus also admitted receiving a $238,000 kickback for hiring Greenleaf CM of Evanston, Ill., as a subcontractor on an unspecified project. He told the FBI that Greenleaf’s chief executive officer, Thomas Gourguechon, approved paying a phony invoice for about $300,000, keeping 20 percent for himself and sending the rest to a company controlled by Titus. Gourguechon did not return a message seeking comment.

    Company can still compete for contracts

    Despite Titus’ bribery and kickback confessions, Garner Services remains eligible to receive contracts from the corps and other federal agencies.

    In recent years, Garner Services has received six contracts worth about $20 million from the corps’ New Orleans district, mostly for post-Hurricane Katrina flood-protection upgrades, said Sarah McLaughlin, a corps spokeswoman. She said the firm has not sought a new contract in the past year.

    McLaughlin said Garner Services had been placed on a list of companies excluded from doing business with the government in July 2010, after Titus admitted submitting forged bid bonds while seeking contracts from NASA and the Veterans Affairs department.

    McLaughlin said such exclusions are usually temporary until the company meets criteria set by the government agencies involved. Garner Services was removed from the exclusion list in December 2010, but details about the firm’s reinstatement were unavailable.

    Garner Services was incorporated in 2006 after Titus learned about a new federal program to set aside contracts for companies owned and run by disabled veterans.

    Titus approached Ed Garner, a disabled veteran and president of QCI Marine Offshore in Pascagoula, Miss., who agreed to head up the new firm as long as he could keep his existing job.

    Garner owns 51 percent of the company while Titus and QCI Marine, which fronted money for the partnership in exchange for keeping Garner as its president, each own 24.5 percent,.

    As the chief operational officer, Titus was paid a $144,000 salary plus a $60,000 management fee, a compensation plan that he said was designed to reduce his worker’s compensation insurance premiums, according to the FBI notes.

    Garner was paid a $120,000 salary and received a $200,000 loan from the company that was forgiven. Titus told the FBI he believed Garner used the loan to pay off debts and install a swimming pool at his home.

    Titus also gave Garner $3,000 to $5,000 every couple of months for trips to Brazil on behalf of QCI Marine. Titus told the FBI that Garner wanted spending money but didn’t want his wife to know.

    Titus said he tried to keep Garner in the dark about the company’s finances because he thought Garner would want “a bigger piece of the pie” if he knew how well the company was doing. He repeatedly stated in the FBI interviews that Garner did not participate in the embezzlement scheme and had no knowledge of any illegal activities.

    Titus told the FBI that Garner “did not have any day-to-day responsibilities” at the company, where his role was to serve as a “sounding board for brain-storming sessions.” In another interview, Titus said that “Garner received a salary from Garner Services but was not involved with the business operations.”

    That’s against the rules of the disabled veteran-owned business program. In December 2010, The Times-Picayune exposed how another businessman, Aaron Bennett, whose firm Benetech also had lucrative corps contracts storm-proofing pump stations, handed 51 percent of his company to his father to qualify for the set-aside, even though the father, William Bennett, was not involved in Benetech’s daily operations. The SBA and Veterans Administration launched probes into the matter, and in September 2011, the SBA stripped the designation away from Benetech.

    A few weeks later, Aaron Bennett pleaded guilty in an unrelated bribery scheme.

    There is no certification process for disabled veteran-owned businesses, and a July 2011 VA inspector general’s report found that a staggering 76 percent of businesses that claimed to be eligible for the set-aside could not prove their eligibility. Firms simply represent themselves as qualifying for the designation, and it is up to the contracting agency or a rival bidder to file a challenge if they believe the firm does not meet the criteria.

    Garner did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

    Protecting his interests

    With the feds breathing down his back, Titus took several steps to protect his business interests and personal assets in a one-week period last summer.

    Less than two hours before a bill of information charging Titus with fraud was filed June 29, Ed Garner went online and renewed Garner Services’ certification as a government contractor. The lengthy form includes a sworn statement by Garner that no principals with the company, including Titus, had been indicted or charged with a list of crimes that includes fraud.

    The document helped ensure Titus could continue working for Garner Services for at least another year without losing the firm’s eligibility for government contracts.

    In the week after he was charged, Titus and his wife sold two New Orleans properties with a combined assessed value of $340,000 to his mother-in-law, Joan Gail Stelzer, for $10 each, according to real estate records.

    Titus had paid $144,000 in 2001 for one of the properties, Garner Services’ headquarters at 348 S. Diamond St. near the Central Business District. That property is now assessed at $203,000. The other property sold to Stelzer, a house at 841 Washington Ave., is assessed at $137,000.

    Titus also was replaced by his son, Mark J. Titus Jr., as the registered agent for Property 348 LLC, which bought unspecified property in the Central Business District using some of the money embezzled from Garner Services, according to FBI notes.

    Lemann called the property transfers a thinly veiled attempt to shelter the assets from government seizure.

    Prosecutors have indicated they intend to seek a $925,000 forfeiture from Titus. But in a February court filing, the government said it had not identified any specific assets that Titus derived from the embezzlement scheme or any property that could be forfeited as a “substitute asset.”

    Far from feeling fortunate about his plea deal, Titus told the FBI none of his confessed crimes would have come to light without his ties to Fazzio and Fazzio’s ties to River Birch.

    “Titus blamed those ‘rich f—-,’ meaning Heebe and Jim Ward, for causing grief in his life,” FBI agents wrote in one of their interview summaries. “Titus did not think his crimes would have been discovered if Heebe and Ward had not gotten into trouble.”

    Titus, who wore a recording device during two conversations with Fazzio, felt that Fazzio, who was”like a mentor” to him, is the one who made the first betrayal.

    “Fazzio assured Titus that their embezzlement scheme was so small that it would not make the radar,” FBI agents wrote in notes from Titus’ last interview in October. “Titus felt that Fazzio had betrayed him because Fazzio told him that he would not let anything happen to him, and Fazzio did not keep his word.”

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