Louisiana appeals court orders new judge for Darren Sharper’s co-defendants _lowres

Erik Nunez

A former Morton’s steakhouse waiter who befriended Darren Sharper and was charged last year with joining the retired Saints safety in the rapes of two women, pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday to a new federal charge of conspiring to impede a grand jury probe by getting rid of a phone.

Erik Nunez, 28, appeared in front of U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle in an orange St. Charles Parish prison jumpsuit to enter his plea.

The charge, which turned up in a new indictment last week, accuses him of conspiring to “alter, destroy, mutilate and conceal” a cellphone and the information it contained sometime between Sept. 23, 2013, and Dec. 1, 2013, “with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding, that is, a federal grand jury.”

While the feds apparently didn’t get involved until later, Sept. 23, 2013, was the date that two women, including a former Saintsations cheerleader, say they were raped by Sharper and Nunez at the former Saint’s condo on Tchoupitoulas Street.

Nunez’s attorney, Sara Johnson, told the judge that Nunez would agree to remain in jail. He already is being held in lieu of $2.5 million bail on state charges related to an alleged scheme with Sharper to drug and rape women.

The new federal charge carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

The two aggravated rape counts he faces in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court carry mandatory life in prison.

Nunez pleaded not guilty to the rape and obstruction charges after a state indictment that also named Sharper and former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi.

Sharper has since pleaded guilty or no contest in state and federal courts in New Orleans, as well as in Arizona, Nevada and California in cases involving nine women across four states.

An Oct. 13 trial date has been set for Licciardi and Nunez in front of U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo, who has yet to weigh in on a four-state plea deal for Sharper, in which he would serve a minimum nine more years behind bars.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.