Archive for February, 2013

Lafayette DA Update – 2/28/12 – “Secret Cajun Man” Indicted

02/28/2013

Key figure in OWI bribery scandal indicted

Robert Williamson, the key figure in the OWI bribery scandal at the District Attorney’s Office, was indicted today on charges including one count of conspiracy, six counts of bribery for operation in a pay-for-plea scheme, one count of Social Security fraud and one count of making a false statement.

According to J. Michael Small, Williamson’s attorney, Williamson will plead not guilty to the charges.

P.I. Williamson finally indicted

U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley’s office, after months of keeping hush on the identity of co-conspirator No. 1, Thursday pegged Lafayette private eye Robert Williamson as the mastermind behind the bribery scheme that took place for four years under the nose of 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson. The indictment was announced in a press conference this afternoon.

The 64-year-old Williamson (aka Secret Cajun Man) now faces a slew of charges following a federal grand jury indictment Thursday, including six counts of bribery “for operating a pay-for-plea scheme that garnered favorable treatment for defendants charged with state violations of operating while intoxicated,” one count of conspiracy, one count of Social Security fraud and one count of making false statements to federal agents.

Williamson, who is not a lawyer, would offer individuals facing misdemeanor and felony charges (mostly OWIs) an opportunity to erase their records in exchange for “thousands of dollars,” according to the indictment. Using a process called “immediate 894,” which Harson created based Article 894 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, Williamson secured those favorable outcomes by bribing officials within District Attorney Mike Harson’s office, including his secretary Barna Haynes, Assistant District Attorney Greg Williams and Williams’ secretary Denease Curry. All three of the former DA employees have pleaded guilty in the scheme; Williams will likely be disbarred for his participation. Curry, according to her guilty plea, overheard defendants say they were paying Williamson $5,000 to handle their cases.

Williamson was able to exploit a flawed program, but it remains unclear just how much Harson knew about what was going between his office and the local private eye. According to Finley, who says the scheme was able to play out for so long due to a “lack of oversight and safeguards” in the DA’s office, all of the defendants have so far stated that Harson was unaware of the bribery scheme. Harson last week told The Advertiser the immediate 894 program has since been shut down because district judges have refused to hear the cases; District Judge Ed Rubin handled all of the cases at the heart of the bribery scheme. Finley says there is no evidence anyone in the judicial branch was paid bribes in the scheme.

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More on Jail Commission Meeting

02/28/2013

One other important issue was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission – the “emergency” declared last December because of a report by the Louisiana State Fire Marshal isn’t quite as dire as first advertised.

Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office (LPSO) Chief Deputy Jim Tuten told the group that the fire marshal gave the commission additional time to repair the most pressing problem, the jail doors.

Said Tuten, “Meeting with the fire marshal, he has given us time, because he realizes that you can’t snap your finger and fix all the problems that are there.” He added, “The detention center has taken steps that the fire marshal recommended in order to alleviate the immediate problem. And that was the problem of if there’s a fire, inmates being trapped in the facility – that was solved that day.”

Tuten also reported that the dishwasher issue was solved by leasing a machine, rather than purchasing one for over $40 thousand.

Higher Ed Roundup – 2/28/13

02/28/2013

Legislators propose linking state higher education funding to graduation rates

Convention Center funds eyed for higher ed

Here’s Your Sign

02/28/2013

022813 Sign

Seen in Jonesboro Recently

02/27/2013

022713 Sign

Monroe Mayor Mayo’s Veto Threat Mostly Hot Air

02/27/2013

Term Limits

Mayor Jaimie Mayo’s promised threat to veto an ordinance passed at last night’s meeting of the Monroe City Council is an idle one, it appears from what the city’s charter says.

Section 2-13. – Submission of Ordinances to the Mayor.

D. The right of the mayor to veto as provided in this section shall apply to all ordinances adopted by the council except those which propose amendments to this charter;

The ordinance that was passed last night would allow a vote to amend the city charter and establish term limits for the mayor and council.

Furthermore, the ordinance was passed on a 4-1 vote, so the 2/3 threshold for a veto override is already established.

Making the motion was District Four’s Kenny Wilson, with District Three’s Betty Blakes. Voting with Wilson and Blakes was District One’s Ray Armstrong, and District Five’s Eddie Clark. Voting no was District Two’s Gretchen Ezernack.

Mayo said he was concerned that holding the term limits election this November might jeopardize several tax renewals that are also scheduled for the same election.

Said Mayo, “Those renewals are very, very important to our city.” He added, “This ordinance will polarize our community” and likely increase voter turnout.

Politicians typically prefer low voter turnouts for tax elections, as they historically have a better chance of passage then.

Mayo asked the author of the ordinance (Blakes) what her reasons were for proposing it. She replied that while campaigning for office last year, many constituents requested such a law.

Property Annexation

In other business, the council removed from the agenda several ordinances up for final approval that would annex property south of Richwood that is being developed for a freight terminal.

This was a bizarre development, because just last month the administration insisted that the annexation must be approved immediately, or the development could be jeopardized.

Asked after the meeting why the agenda change, Council Chair Eddie Clark told us it was at the request of the city’s legal department. At the January meeting, City Attorney Nancy Summersgill was the most vocal of those demanding quick action by the council to annex the property.

Bus Driver’s Contract

During the public comments part of the meeting, Amalgamated Transit Union International Vice President Kenneth Kirk told the council that as of last December 31, Monroe’s (Local 1160) bus drivers have been working without a contract.

Kirk said that the mayor or his representative have failed to meet with the union since last August, as is required by the collective bargaining agreement. Meetings have been cancelled by the mayor, Kirk said, and he also would not respond to a written request for arbitration.

Said Kirk, “In our contract we are required to meet and bargain in the 13-C agreement that you signed between the City of Monroe, Local 1160, and the Department of Labor.”

Kirk said that he was placing the city on notice that the union would seek all remedies available to them under the contract, if the city refused to meet and bargain.

Higher Ed Roundup – 2/27/13

02/27/2013

Tuition increase approved for 90,000 college students

Our Views: Move toward more openness

Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission Hears Report

02/26/2013

The Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission this morning voted unanimously to take under advisement a report by its Jail Study Committee and meet in three weeks to make a final decision.

Two recommendations were made by the study committee. One would place operation of the jail back under the commission, as was done from 1982 when the jail was built, until 2008, when operation was sub-contracted to a private company. The other recommendation would sub-contract operation of the jail to the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office (LPSO).

At present, the jail is managed and operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private contractor that operates more than a dozen correctional facilities in Louisiana and Texas.

See here a summary of current operation and the composition of the study committee.

LPSO Chief Deputy Jim Tuten, who chaired the study committee, noted the commission could accept the recommendations, modify them, or come up with a different plan.

Said Tuten, “Y’all don’t have to take our recommendations, y’all can choose any one of those, or if you have another one – it’s up to the commission to decide as far as that study goes.”

See here a summary of the recommendations.

Commission member and Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) President Skip Russell (District Eight) thanked the study committee for their efforts.

Said Russell, “On behalf of the police jury I would like to express appreciation to all of you who had a part in serving on this study committee.” He added, “The results are fruitful.”

Five options were considered by the study committee. See them here with a brief discussion of each:

Sell Lincoln Parish Detention Center
Retain current operation management
Return to Detention Center Commission operation
LPSO operation of jail
Shared management with LaSalle Corrections

See also a brief history of the detention center commission and a summary of previous reports on the jail.

The detention center commission is made up of Russell, Third Judicial District Attorney Bob Levy, City of Ruston Police Chief Steve Rogers, Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone, and is chaired by Lincoln Parish Police Juror Joe Henderson (District Nine).

Those serving on the study committee in addition to Tuten were:

Theresa Wyatt – LPPJ
Ronnie Walker – LPPJ
Steve Rogers – Ruston Police Department
Ed Pittman – City of Ruston
Gary Stokley – Citizen member

The next meeting of the commission is set for Tuesday, March 19, 10:00 AM, Lincoln Parish Courthouse, third floor.

Higher Ed Roundup – 2/26/13

02/26/2013

Panel discusses who should control tuition

Tuition increase likely for state schools

Lafayette DA Update – 2/26/13

02/26/2013

DWI probe yields another guilty plea in Acadiana

LAFAYETTE — A fifth person pleaded guilty Monday in an ongoing federal probe of bribes paid for favorable treatment in DWI cases.

Sandra Degeyter, 61, a former case manager at Acadiana Outreach Center, admitted to accepting cash to falsify certifications that criminal defendants had completed court-mandated community service at the nonprofit agency, which at the time provided assistance for the homeless and recovering addicts.

Degeyter faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

She provided more than 50 false community service certificates at $100 per certificate, according to information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Another former Acadiana Outreach Center employee, 59-year-old Elaine Crump, pleaded guilty earlier this month to misprision of a felony for her involvement in the scheme. A misprision of a felony charge means a person had knowledge of a crime but did not report it.

The federal probe has also netted guilty pleas from three former employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Degeyter and Crump are accused of providing false documentation that the community service hours had been done at Acadiana Outreach Center.

Degeyter had initially provided the documents to “co-conspirator No. 1” in 2008, according to court filings from prosecutors.

Crump took over the case manager job after Degeyter left. Degeyter asked that she be allowed to forge Crump’s signature to continue producing the false community service certificates on Acadiana Outreach letterhead, according to the court filings.

Crump agreed in return for regular cash payments from Degeyter ranging from $25 to $100, according to prosecutors.

Bribery schemers dropping like flies

Sandra Degeyter admitted in federal court late Monday afternoon to receiving more than $5,000 for her role in the bribery scheme that continues to haunt the 15th Judicial District, making her the fifth guilty plea entered in the case so far.

During Monday’s proceedings, the 61-year-old Degeyter admitted she was paid more than $5,000 by an unnamed co-conspirator — whom U.S. Magistrate Patrick Hanna referred to as a private investigator, and whom The IND has long identified as Robert Williamson, aka Secret Cajun Man.

Degeyter’s relationship with Williamson began in 2008, while she was still employed with Acadiana Outreach Center as a case manager. In Monday’s plea, Degeyter conceded to forging signatures on more than 50 community service documents for OWI and other defendants. Even after her employment with the nonprofit came to an end in 2009, Degeyter continued with the racket of forging community service docs. That, she accomplished through Elaine Crump, another former AOC case worker.