When I think of ex-St. Tammany and Washington parishes District Attorney Walter Reed, I picture him wearing a bustier.
It’s not what you’re thinking.
The mental image isn’t based in reality but on a satirical Carnival float from this year’s Krewe of Muses parade (my krewe, in the interest of full disclosure).
The parade’s overall theme was adolescence, and the Reed-centered float was titled “Padding.” It depicted him stuffing his symbolic lingerie the way a developing teenager might; the voluptuous “padding” consisted of all sorts of lucrative extras, from campaign donations put to personal use to outside legal work, from property tax breaks to the generous salary Reed set for himself.
So instead of being a commentary on Reed’s sartorial preferences, the float spoofed the many ways this once-powerful politician was able to pad his personal bottom line — a pattern highlighted in a series of damning news stories and under investigation by federal authorities.
The Advocate’s Gordon Russell and Sara Pagones reported over the weekend that a wide-ranging grand jury probe into Reed’s behavior while in office may be winding down and that criminal charges are likely in the offing.
The feds have been turning Reed’s money-making schemes inside out, trying to figure out which ones might violate federal law. It’s a tricky task, given that there doesn’t seem to be an instance of out-and-out bribery (unlike, say, the case against Orleans Parish School Board member Ira Thomas, charged last week in a bill of information hinging on a simple $5,000 transaction allegedly aimed at securing Thomas’ cooperation in landing the donor a janitorial contract).
Still, federal laws governing wire and mail transfers, tax reporting and the like are often flexible enough to reel in a big fish with a record of self-enrichment.
And what a record Reed has amassed. Investigators and lawyers seem to be focusing on a handful of areas where the former DA, who declined to run for re-election last year, either made out or helped his family and friends.
The first subpoenas covered his use of campaign money. Reed, who hadn’t faced an opponent in decades, reportedly paid his son Steven way more than the cost of services provided for a campaign fundraiser. He also routinely dipped into the campaign fund to pay personal expenses such as groceries, according to his ex-girlfriend, who says Reed threw her a lavish birthday dinner at The Dakota Restaurant in Covington and charged it to his political account, claiming it was a planning meeting for a golf fundraiser.
Also under the microscope is Reed’s troubling relationship with St. Tammany Parish Hospital. This piece of the probe centers on whether he improperly shifted work previously done by the DA’s Office to his private law firm, and whether he sent a taxpayer-paid employee to meetings for which he was paid in his private capacity.
A legal arrangement with the Causeway Commission is also being scrutinized, specifically whether Reed used his influence to steer work to the Becknell Law Firm and shared some of the proceeds, and whether he did any work for the money he received.
A fourth component of the investigation involves potential unreported income to the IRS from either his outside work or his gold-buying business, all on top of his nearly $200,000 public salary. A fifth involves an arrangement that allowed some of his favored aides to receive enhanced public retirements and gave one close associate, Harry Pastuszek, two retirements, a DA’s Office salary and hundreds of thousands in legal fees for representing the St. Tammany Parish School Board.
And that doesn’t even cover all the ways that Reed has reportedly enriched himself and his family over the years. There was the job for his brother at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, the one that was created just for him, according to internal emails from hospital officials. There were the cases from which the DA’s Office recused itself because Reed was handling overlapping civil claims. There were the favorable tax assessments and even the Tulane Legislative Scholarship he solicited for another son, a full ride that could have gone to someone with far more meager means.
No matter how the feds proceed, it’s already clear that Reed’s earned a spot on Louisiana’s long list of fallen politicians, the type who provide so much grist for Mardi Gras-season satire. This year’s Muses parade, in fact, included a separate float depicting a slumber party at federal prison, with former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, ex-U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard engaged in a friendly pillow fight.
If there’s any comfort for Reed, it may be that he was pictured wearing only a bustier, not an orange jumpsuit. But then, there’s always next year.