Nakesia Washington pleads guilty to stealing from 2018 Essence Festival tourists

A Jefferson Parish judge on Wednesday (July 3) gave Nakesia Washington a 15-year sentence after she admitted to stealing money from almost 100 people who paid her to arrange their travel packages to New Orleans’ Essence Festival last year.

Washington, 42, of Harvey, who was the sole owner of OBL Travel in Marrero, pleaded guilty as charged to theft of U.S. currency valued at $25,000 or greater from 98 victims listed in the amended bill of information the state filed in court Wednesday. All the victims live out of state; a dozen of them provided letters that were read aloud in court as impact testimony in which they expressed anger over how Washington ruined their festival plans and how they suffered financially.

In accepting the plea, Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court gave Washington a 15-year prison sentence. Judge Kovach then suspended six of those years, meaning Washington’s prison term will be nine years. Of the six-year balance, Washington will serve three years on active probation, during which she must pay restitution to the victims, the judge ordered.

Judge Kovach set a restitution hearing for July 11 to determine the amount she owes the victims.

Washington accepted money from customers to arrange for their hotel reservations, VIP party passes, concert tickets, travel insurance and other festival-related purposes, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. Her customers traveled to New Orleans only to learn that, in some cases, they had no hotel reservations or services for which they paid.

Washington deposited more than $240,000 into her business bank account and provided some of the services her customers sought. She also used that account to pay for an array of personal activities, from restaurants to rental car payments and gasoline to shopping trips, Sheriff’s Office economic crimes detectives found.

The Sheriff’s Office investigated the case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Service.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Voss prosecuted the case.