In exchange for reinstating the suspended driver’s licenses of DWI defendants, a manager of the Lafayette branch of the state Office of Motor Vehicles and her employees are accused of getting traffic tickets fixed for themselves and family members thanks to an inside connection at the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
The accusations come in an investigative report obtained Tuesday related to the arrest of six people this week in a wide-ranging probe of bribery in the Lafayette court system.
An earlier federal investigation netted six defendants, including three former employees of the District Attorney’s Office and private investigator Robert Williamson, who is now in federal prison for paying off the district attorney’s staff to secure special DWI plea deals.
New details emerging this week paint a picture of alleged corruption more extensive than has yet been made public.
Among those arrested Monday by the state Attorney General’s Office was Joy Trahan, a manager at the local OMV branch.
State investigators allege Trahan gave “unfettered access” to Williamson, who routinely went to the office in 2011 and 2012 for the reinstatement of his clients’ licenses, sometimes only weeks after they had been suspended following a DWI arrest.
In return, Williamson used his connections in the District Attorney’s Office to fix traffic tickets for Trahan and other OMV employees, according to a state investigative report filed to support the warrants in Monday’s arrests.
State investigators also allege Trahan and her employees gave Williamson access to confidential information held by the OMV, including driver’s license numbers, birth dates, driving records, addresses and Social Security numbers.
The investigative report does not make clear why Williamson wanted the information, though in one case in 2012, he sought records connected to the license plate of someone he believed was following him.
“The license plate, unbeknownst to Williamson and the OMV employee, belonged to an FBI vehicle” the report states.
When questioned by investigators, Trahan described Williamson’s relationship with her and other OMV employees as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” according to the report.
State investigators also allege Williamson plied the OMV employees with gifts and was granted an additional consideration: He received “prompt service and, unlike other customers, was not required to wait in line.”
The OMV did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday made through State Police, which generally handles media inquiries for the office.
While most of the prior revelations about the corruption probe have focused on Williamson, the state investigative report alleges two other schemes unrelated to him.
Kenneth Franques Sr., a retired Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who had worked on former District Attorney Mike Harson’s campaigns, is accused of using his connections to sell access to special DWI pleas similar to what Williamson offered.
Investigators said Franques’ main link to the District Attorney’s Office was the same as Williamson’s: Harson’s longtime secretary, Barna D. Haynes.
Haynes received an 18-month prison term in the federal case last year after admitting she accepted at least $55,000 in bribes from Williamson to arrange special plea deals that allowed for charges to be quickly disposed off and expunged from the public court record.
In another case, Justina Ina, a probation officer with the District Attorney’s Office, is accused of accepting improper payments to help defendants expunge criminal charges from the public court record.
The state investigation was launched in late 2014 at the request of federal officials, whose investigation uncovered allegations more appropriately pursued in state court, state Attorney General Jeff Landry said Monday.
Others arrested in the state investigation this week include two Lafayette criminal defense attorneys accused of referring clients to Williamson: Christopher Luke Edwards and Dan Kennison.
In one case cited by state investigators, a client of Edwards facing a DWI charge allegedly paid $8,000 to secure a special plea deal, with $2,500 going to Edwards and $5,500 to Williamson.
In another case, investigators who had tapped Williamson’s phone captured an exchange with a man identified as Edwards discussing someone arrested with drugs and a firearm, according to the investigative report.
Edwards is reportedly heard telling Williamson, “Ten pounds of weed and he wants it, uh, like, to go poof.”
Williamson replied, “It could go poof if he would call and talk to me.”
Also arrested on Monday was a longtime employee of the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office, Kevin Ozene, who is accused of altering court records in connection with the scheme.
Harson has not been identified 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.