Two criminal defense attorneys, a longtime Clerk of Court employee and the manager of the local branch of the state Office of Motor Vehicles were among six people arrested Monday in the state Attorney General’s follow-up to a federal probe of bribes paid for special treatment in Lafayette DWI cases.
The arrests on Monday bring to 12 the number of people charged in a scandal that tarnished the local justice system with revelations of defendants paying as much as $5,000 per case to grease the wheels of justice.
“The integrity of those involved in the judicial process is not an option. It is essential. Those who peddle their influence in return for personal gain damage the very fabric of the judicial system,” said FBI special agent Don Bostic, who joined state Attorney General Jeff Landry for a news conference Monday on the steps of the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
The federal investigation netted a local private investigator, three employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and two employees of a nonprofit group who falsified certificates to show defendants had completed court-mandated community service.
The state investigation made public Monday adds six more to that roster.
Lafayette criminal defense attorneys Christopher Luke Edwards and Dan Kennison face counts of corrupt influencing, criminal conspiracy and accessory after the fact.
Justina Ina, a probation officer, was booked on malfeasance in office.
Joy Trahan, the manager of the local branch of the Office of Motor Vehicles, was booked on malfeasance in office and criminal conspiracy.
Kenneth Franques Sr., who once worked as a reserve deputy for the Lafayette City Marshal, was booked on public bribery, and Kevin Ozene, a Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court employee, was booked on injuring public records and malfeasance in office.
Landry declined to give details on any of the allegations but said no other arrests are expected at this time.
None of the defendants could be reached for comment.
Lafayette Clerk of Court Louis Perret said he suspended Ozene’s employment when he learned Monday about the criminal charge but knew nothing about the allegations.
He said Ozene has worked at the clerk’s office for more than 30 years.
Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope said Franques has not worked as a reserve officer since April 2012.
The six people charged in the federal investigation have all pleaded guilty and were sentenced.
The last case wrapped up in September, when Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson, whom federal prosecutors said orchestrated the bribery scheme, received 6½ years in prison on charges of conspiracy, bribery and Social Security fraud.
Landry said Monday that Williamson will face additional state counts of public bribery, corrupt influencing, filing false public records and criminal conspiracy.
The state investigation was launched in late 2014 at the request of federal officials, whose investigation uncovered allegations more appropriately pursued in state court, Landry said.
He said the case was tagged for attention in a review of pending investigations he began after taking office last month and is part of broader policy of tackling public corruption.
“The federal government has had to step in many times to help enforce laws and protect the public here in Louisiana. The federal government should not and will not be alone in this mission under my administration,” Landry said.
According to allegations in the federal case, Williamson doled out cash and gifts to secure special DWI pleas that allowed for charges to be quickly disposed of and expunged from the public court record.
Another major player was Barna D. Haynes, former District Attorney Mike Harson’s longtime secretary and the wife of Lafayette City Prosecutor Gary Haynes.
Williamson paid her at least $55,000 over four years — at $500 a case — for the inside touch needed to secure special treatment from the DA’s Office for his clients, according to federal court records.
Two other former District Attorney’s Office employees were tagged in the federal investigation for lesser roles, accused of accepting cash and gifts for helping coordinate the plea deals.
Two former employees of the Acadiana Outreach Center were accused of falsifying certifications showing criminal defendants had completed court-mandated community service at the nonprofit agency, which at the time provided assistance for the homeless and recovering addicts.
Federal prosecutors did not identify Harson as a target in the investigation, but the scandal became a central issue in his failed bid for re-election in 2014, when he lost to retired prosecutor Keith Stutes.