Walter Reed’s decision to go to trial may or may not work out as he hopes. But the longtime St. Tammany and Washington Parish District Attorney’s federal trial, which opens today, holds nothing but promise for his former constituents, who will now get a rare peek behind closed doors at how a politician allegedly on the make operated.
Reed is standing trial on a 19-count indictment for conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, making false statements on his taxes, and money laundering. Prosecutors will surely paint him as a money-grubbing operator who used his campaign account to host lavish personal parties and funnel money to his son and co-defendant, pocketed legal fees from St. Tammany Parish Hospital that should have gone to his office, and more. His defense will try to show that he operated within the bounds of federal law.
But what may well emerge — through documents, emails and witness testimony about private conversations and about how business is normally conducted — is a picture of a man focused on leveraging his exalted public position, whether or not any individual act rises to the level of criminality. This is what happened when former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and countless others went on trial in recent years.
One constant refrain from these corruption trials is that influence is peddled all the time, that office holders are surrounded by people eager to please, and that it’s quite easy for them to take advantage of their status. If they follow the trial, the people Reed represented for three decades will probably get an earful about that dynamic. And whether or not they’re ultimately convicted, politicians who endure these trials -- not to mention their eager enablers -- never seem to look good at the end.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.