LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - A probe of bribery in the Lafayette court system has expanded to include a former employee of the Acadiana Outreach Center.
The Advocate reports 59-year-old Elaine Crump admitted in court Tuesday to falsifying certificates that defendants had completed court-mandated community service at the nonprofit group.
Crump, a former case manager, pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony for not reporting the scheme she was involved in. She faces up to three years in prison.
The plea comes after three former employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney's Office pleaded guilty earlier this year in the investigation of bribes paid for favorable treatment in DWI cases.
Federal prosecutors say the bribery scheme remains under investigation.
Assistant D.A. Pleads Guilty in Lafayette Court Bribery Case
From the Office of United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley
LAFAYETTE, La.: That Greg Williams, 44, of Lafayette, La., an Assistant District Attorney for the 15th Judicial District, pled guilty to a one- count Bill of Information charging Williams with Conspiracy to Commit Bribery. His secretary, Denease Curry, 46, of Broussard, La., also pled guilty to a separate one-count Bill of Information charging her with Misprision of a Felony, that is, failure to report the bribery scheme.
The following admissions were made by Williams and Curry in their factual stipulations entered during the guilty plea hearings in open court before Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Hanna: The District Attorney's Office had previously established a process by which select individuals could receive what was referred to as "immediate 894 pleas" on OWI cases.
In order to qualify for the "immediate 894 plea," the charged individuals had to provide certifications at the time of the plea that they had completed all legal prerequisites, including community service, a substance abuse program, and a driver safety program. If the District Attorney authorized the "immediate 894 plea," their case was not placed on any docket, and they were allowed to plea at a time and place different than the normal OWI docket.
Following the entry of the "immediate 894 plea," the judge would immediately grant the 894 motion dismissing the conviction, which served as an acquittal, thereby enabling those OWI defendants to immediately reinstate their driving privileges.
Beginning in 2010, Williams and Curry became aware that Barna Haynes, the former office administrator and secretary to the District Attorney for the 15th Judicial District, and another individual, (hereafter referred to as co-conspirator #1) were utilizing the "immediate 894 plea" sessions to provide favorable dispositions of OWI cases for individuals who were willing to pay co-conspirator #1.
Williams served as the prosecuting attorney in all of the "immediate 894 sessions" conducted for co-conspirator #1's "clients," and Curry assisted in coordinating those sessions. Both Williams and Curry were aware that the individuals were paying co-conspirator #1 for being allowed to plead in the "immediate 894 sessions."
Williams and Curry also were aware that co-conspirator #1 was not licensed to practice law.
Curry was regularly contacted by Barna Haynes to help coordinate the "immediate 894 sessions." At the request of Barna Haynes, Curry would contact the district judge's chambers for the purpose of setting the session, give the judge's staff the names of the OWI defendants who were to plead guilty, and obtain a date and time for the upcoming session.
Curry would contact co-conspirator #1 informing him of the date and time for the "immediate 894 session."
Curry prepared the OWI files for the "immediate 894 sessions" and would regularly see and interact with co-conspirator #1.
On the day of the "immediate 894 session," co-conspirator #1 would escort his "client" to Assistant District Attorney Greg Williams' office, and Williams would explain to the "client" what he or she could expect to occur during the "immediate 894 session."
In 2010, co-conspirator #1 began giving gifts to Curry. That same year, Barna Haynes took an extended medical leave of absence from the District Attorney's Office.
Nevertheless, Haynes continued to coordinate the "immediate 894 sessions" for coconspirator #1's "clients."
Because of Haynes absence, both Haynes and co-conspirator #1 turned to Curry for additional assistance in coordinating the "immediate 894 sessions." During this period, co-conspirator #1 began making a series of $200 cash payments to Curry.
After the initial payment from co-conspirator #1, Curry spoke to Barna Haynes of her concerns about the payment. Barna Haynes informed Curry that she was also receiving payments from co-conspirator #1.
Curry received approximately eight payments from coconspirator #1 totaling $1,600.
In 2010 and 2011, co-conspirator #1 gave Williams a series of gifts and a cash payment as a reward for his participation in the "immediate 894 sessions." The gifts included an autographed New Orleans Saints hat, bicycles and clothing for Williams and family members.
In December 2011, co-conspirator #1 gave Williams a cash payment of $500. This occurred in Williams' office at the District Attorney's Office.
At sentencing, Williams faces a term of imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both, and a term of supervised release of not more than three years, following confinement, and Curry faces a term of imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of up to $250,000.00, or both, and a term of supervised release of not more than three years, following confinement. Sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.
U.S. Attorney Finley stated, "There is no place for this kind of activity in the criminal justice system.
Both Williams and Curry were entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that justice was served as it related to the OWI cases. They grossly violated that trust.
My office, along with the FBI, will continue to investigate and prosecute corruption in the Western District of Louisiana." Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New Orleans Division, Michael Anderson, stated, "Given the high degree of authority and discretion of any District Attorney's Office in resolving criminal charges and the associated impacts on victims, the FBI remains fully committed to rooting out corruption that obstructs that process in any way."
For additional details regarding Williams' and Curry's guilty pleas, see attached copies of each defendant's Plea Agreement and Factual Basis.
The case is being investigated by lead agent Doug Herman, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John Luke Walker and Richard Willis.
DWI Bribery Scheme Update
With just one day to go before the US Attorney's offer of leniency expires, new and surprising information is coming to light about the FBI's investigation into allegations of a bribery scheme operating inside the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
Sources close to the case have been saying the feds may have targeted upwards of twenty individuals who are suspected of taking cash in exchange for helping people get DWI's taken care of.
Up until now most have assumed those being threatened with indictment are a combination of people who offered the alleged bribery money and those who took it. But News 10 has obtained new information that federal prosecutors may only be after those who were allegedly running the operation.
In fact, according to sources close to the case there are indications that many of those who were allegedly being asked to come up with the cash may not have known they were doing anything illegal.
Lafayette Attorney Bill Goode regularly handles DWI cases and regularly uses something known as an Article 8-94 to help his clients get clear of DWI' charges.
To legally obtain an article 8-94 Goode says it normally takes anywhere from 10 months to a year. And it isn't cheap. Sources close to the government's case say the feds may believe those allegedly involved in this operation were fast tracking 8-94's by either by-passing or forging various aspects of the normally lengthy process.
Those suspected of involvement have until Friday to come forward or face possible indictment by a federal grand jury.
DWI Bribery Scheme Update 10/26
On Monday News 10 broke the story of an FBI investigation into allegations of a briery scheme operating inside the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
The allegations were spelled out in what is known as a target letter that was reportedly hand delivered to upwards of twenty people who are suspected of have a role in taking money to make DWI's disappear.
According to a copy of one of the actual target US Attorney Stephanie Finley is threatening to charge those allegedly involved in this scheme with bribery, participating in a criminal enterprise and racketeering.
Those are serious charges that if convicted carry very serious potential sentences. But in the same letter Finley offers those implicated with a way out. Finley says their case could be disposed of with less publicity by pleading guilty to one count, thereby allowing them to earn a lesser penalty.
But, the offer has a time limit. Finley says; "If I have not heard from you by Friday October 26th, I will assume you are not interested and present your case to a grand jury".
We reached out to the US Attorney Friday in hopes of finding out how many of those who received one of these letters has opted to accept a plea. But as of news time we have yet to hear anything. We'll keep you posted.
DWI Bribery Scheme Update 10/25
Time is running out for what may be upwards of 20 men and women who have received target letters from US Attorney Stephanie Finley.
The letters indicate the recipients have been implicated in a scheme operating inside the Lafayette Parish Courthouse that took money to make DWI's disappear. TV10 has obtained a copy of a target letter issued by the US Attorney's Office. Click here to read it.
The allegations are serious and so are the potential penalties.
According to the target letters served by the US Attorney Generals Office federal prosecutors are prepared to bring charges of bribery, operating a criminal enterprise, and racketeering, against those allegedly involved in a scheme the FBI claims was operating inside the Lafayette Parish Courthouse; An illegal enterprise agents contend fixed DWI's for money.
The accusations set forth in the letter are serious and so are the potential charges. The feds are threatening to use RICO statutes, the same laws created to combat organized crime.
A RICO conviction carries a minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum of life. But its important to remember that at this point no charges have been filed against anyone, and that the allegations contained in those target letters are just that allegations that have to be proved.
Unless some of those singled out opt to cooperate and plead guilty in exchange for a more lenient sentence. The deadline for taking the governments offer of a deal is this Friday.
DWI Bribery Scheme Update
TV10 has obtained a copy of a target letter issued by the US Attorney's Office. Click here to read it.
Eyewitness news has learned the FBI and the US Attorney's Office believe they've exposed an alleged bribery scheme the feds claim has been operating inside the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
The investigation first became public in March when the FBI obtained search warrants to examine DWI records.
Soon afterward, District Attorney Mike Harson's long time Administrative Assistant, Barna Haynes, was placed on administrative leave and eventually resigned.
Now, after months of collecting evidence agents are alleging a combination of attorneys and employees of the court have been making thousands of dollars to make DWI cases disappear.
Sources close to the case say those allegedly involved in this scheme were asking anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per case to make a DWI go away.
We're being told upwards of 20 people may be involved. In the last few days FBI agents have reportedly been hand delivering what are called "target letters" to those individuals.
In this instance a target letter is really nothing more than law enforcement's way of letting someone know; they've have been under criminal investigation and that after reviewing the evidence the justice department is convinced there's enough evidence to warrant criminal charges.
For obvious reasons the identities of these individuals are being kept confidential. But that won't last for long.
The charges are reportedly very serious and include public bribery and operating a criminal enterprise.
When reached for comment Monday District Attorney Mike Harson told News 10's Chuck Huebner;" I've heard some letters went out, but I have not received one."
Clerk of Court Louis Perret said he was not aware any of his employees receiving a target letter.
Stay tuned to Eyewitness News as we continue to follow this developing story.