Robert Williamson pleads guilty in DA’s office bribery scheme

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Robert Williamson pleaded guilty Monday to three charges for his role in a bribery scheme involving former workers in the district attorney’s office.

Williamson pleaded guilty to conspiracy, one count of bribery and Social Security fraud, according to his attorney, Thomas Damico of Baton Rouge.

Jury selection began Monday morning, but Williamson signed a plea agreement Monday afternoon admitting to his role in three charges of the nine for which he was indicted.

“My client takes full responsibility for what he’s done,” Damico said. “He signed a plea agreement and he just wanted to get this behind him for the benefit of himself and his family.”

Williamson faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, up to 10 years on the bribery charge and up to five years on the Social Security fraud charge.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Jury selection began Monday in the high-profile case of Robert Williamson, a former Lafayette private investigator accused of bribing several former workers in the district attorney’s office.

Williamson faces one count of conspiracy, six counts of bribery, one count of Social Security fraud and one count of making a false statement to a federal agent.

A former assistant district attorney and two former secretaries in the district attorney’s office of the 15th Judicial District pleaded guilty to charges in the case and agreed to assist with the case against Williamson.

Former long-time District Attorney Mike Harson was not implicated in the bribery scheme, but federal officials said his lack of oversight allowed the scheme to take place. Harson lost his bid for re-election last fall to Keith Stutes, one of his former assistant district attorneys who conducted an internal investigation into the bribery scheme and retired after providing the results to Harson and the Louisiana Attorney General.

Fifty-seven potential jurors gathered at the federal courthouse in Lafayette Monday morning before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote for vetting. Foote said jury selection will probably be the only thing to take place Monday.

Juror candidates completed a written two-page questionnaire Monday morning and were instructed to break for lunch and return to court at 12:30 p.m. to answer questions individually from attorneys and the judge.

Foote instructed potential jurors not to discuss the case with anyone, not to search for the case on Google or to communicate via social media “to keep the process pure.”

The only evidence jurors may consider is what is presented in the courtroom, she said.

“You are now an integral part of the process,” Foote said. “As potential jurors, you are about the process and it’s important we keep this process pure.”

The trial is expected to take about two weeks.

Federal officials allege that between March 1, 2008, and Feb. 27, 2012, Williamson offered cash and gifts to employees in the district attorney’s office to get his clients in the “immediate 894” process and bribed employees at the Acadiana Outreach Center to falsify community service verification for his clients.

Harson set up the immediate 894 process in which some offenders could complete the usual sentence for offenses like drunk driving before ever seeing a judge.

Federal officials allege Williamson, who is not an attorney, paid cash and other gifts to get clients into the program. By the time they saw a judge — at times outside the normal judicial docket — they had allegedly completed their community service work, drug abuse counseling and driver education courses. They could have the offense wiped from their record and their driver’s license reinstated before ever losing it.

Williamson also is accused of bribing former employees of the nonprofit Acadiana Outreach Center to forge documents used as proof that his clients completed community service work when they had not.

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