FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2019
NEW ORLEANS – The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Louisiana announced that CHRISTOPHER LORELL ROBERTS, JR., age 41, a resident of Gretna, Louisiana, was charged today in a 29-count Indictment with wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343, and tax evasion, in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 7201.
According to the Indictment, ROBERTS served as a member of the Jefferson Parish Council beginning in January 2004, first as a representative of District 1 and then as a Councilman-at- Large. In addition to receiving a salary of up to $112,000 as a councilman, ROBERTS earned income from a variety of other sources, including his part or full ownership of several business ventures, including CDS Enterprises, L.L.C. (“CDS Enterprises”), Mardi Market, The West Bank Beacon, LLC (the “West Bank Beacon”), fireworks stands, Baskin Robbins ice cream franchises, sno-ball stands, a photography business, and a consulting business. CDS Enterprises was the entity through which ROBERTS, among other things, owned and operated Baskin Robbins ice cream franchise locations. Mardi Market was a wholesaler of Mardi Gras-related merchandise, including throws (i.e., beads, doubloons, cups, etc.), apparel, and supplies, located in Gretna, Louisiana. The West Bank Beacon was a local monthly publication distributed throughout portions of the metropolitan New Orleans area. ROBERTS held an approximately twenty-five (25) percent ownership stake in the West Bank Beacon and was responsible for its business operations. ROBERTS also earned income in the form of gambling winnings.
In about October 2013, after the death of its owner, ROBERTS was hired to serve as the General Manager of Company A, a full-service landscaping and landscape management company headquartered in Terrytown, Louisiana, within the Eastern District of Louisiana, that specialized in providing various residential and commercial services, including deck and fence design, creation, and installation, as well as lawn mowing, tree trimming, and weeding. Company A’s new owner, the wife of its original owner, had no prior experience or involvement operating Company A or familiarity with running a business. ROBERTS was responsible for, among other things, the daily oversight, control, and operation of Company A and had signatory authority for and access to Company A’s bank accounts. Beginning not later than May 2014, ROBERTS began defrauding Company A in a number of ways, including by writing checks made payable to himself or entities whose bank accounts were under his control, including the West Bank Beacon and CDS Enterprises, and using Company A’s debit card, which drew on Company A’s bank accounts, to pay for goods and services that benefitted him personally.
ROBERTS engaged in a series of deceptive acts to disguise his behavior and to make the fraudulent transactions appear legitimate by various means. For example, ROBERTS wrote and issued checks drawn on Company A’s bank accounts that contained false descriptions in the checks’ memo lines. He also wrote and issued checks drawn on Company A’s bank accounts made payable to entities owned or controlled by ROBERTS, including CDS Enterprises and the West Bank Beacon, that purported to be related to legitimate expenditures or bill payments for Company A. Furthermore, ROBERTS sent text messages containing false information about the reason for payments to Company A’s owner. He also claimed that unauthorized payments were reimbursements for loans ROBERTS personally made to Company A and bills for Company A that ROBERTS had paid personally. Among the items ROBERTS purchased, in whole or in part, with money he obtained without authorization from Company A and unrelated to his employment with Company A, were a customized shipping container to use as a retail location for the operation of his fireworks business, three (3) remote-controlled drones, and a 2.01 carat diamond ring with a split shank and 84 additional diamonds surrounding the primary diamond that cost approximately $16,000, which ROBERTS used as an engagement ring.
Additionally, each year between Tax Year 2010 and Tax Year 2016, ROBERTS failed to report a substantial amount of the income he earned from multiple sources, including CDS Enterprises, the West Bank Beacon, Company A, and gambling winnings at casinos on his United States Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040 (“Form 1040”). With the help of a certified public accountant, ROBERTS filed initial returns for Tax Years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, in September 2015, during a contested re-election campaign. These returns underreported substantial income sources. Despite failing to declare many of these sources of income on his federal income tax returns, ROBERTS disclosed most of them on the personal financial disclosure statements he completed and filed annually with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
In mid-2017, after ROBERTS learned of a federal criminal investigation into his federal income tax returns, he retained a different certified public accountant to prepare amended returns for Tax Years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as original federal income tax returns for Tax Years 2014, 2015, and 2016. While his amended returns reported significantly more income that the initial income tax return, ROBERTS withheld substantial income sources from his these returns, as well. For example, on September 14, 2015, ROBERTS filed his Tax Year 2013 federal income tax return in which he reported joint total income of $188,759. On January 11, 2018, after learning of the federal investigation, ROBERTS filed an amended return that reported his joint total income was $568,957.
If convicted, ROBERTS faces a maximum term of 475 years in prison, a fine of up to $6,200,000, up to three (3) years of supervised release after imprisonment, and a mandatory $100 special assessment per count.
The United States Attorney’s Office reiterated that an Indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The United States Attorney’s Office praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation in investigating this matter, with the assistance of The Metropolitan Crime Commission. Assistant United States Attorney Jordan Ginsberg, supervisor of the Public Corruption Unit, and Assistant United States Attorney Myles Ranier are in charge of the prosecution.