Lawyers for a man charged with helping former Saints player Darren Sharper drug women to prime them for rape are urging a federal judge to deny a request from prosecutors for a gag order in the case, saying it would “dramatically impair” their client’s ability to prepare a defense.
In a filing entered Wednesday, Brandon Licciardi’s lawyers argue that a gag order proposed by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office in New Orleans would prevent their client from getting information that might be used against him at a trial or learning the names of his accusers, even if that information turns out to be “necessary to prepare an effective defense.”
In requesting the gag order from U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo last month, Polite’s office said it was looking to protect the privacy of victims and witnesses in the case and prevent any “improper pressure, intimidation or harassment brought upon them from third parties.”
Polite’s office is asking Milazzo to ban defense attorneys from allowing outside parties, including news reporters, from viewing or copying evidence provided to the defense in the discovery process. It also asks Milazzo not to let the defense reveal any identifying information about victims or witnesses and instead to designate them by combinations of descriptions, numbers and letters in court filings.
Prosecutors allege that Licciardi — an ex-St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s deputy who befriended Sharper while the former All-Pro played for the Saints in 2009 and 2010 — previously attempted to “persuade a witness by requesting her to not provide law enforcement officials with certain information concerning his involvement with the ... investigation.”
In a reply to the memo from Polite’s office, Licciardi’s attorneys, Ralph Capitelli and Brian Capitelli, criticize prosecutors for basing their request for a gag order on case law that mostly involves “terrorists, war criminals and international drug cartel members.”
The Capitellis say the witness the government argues was intimidated “had a consensual sexual relationship with ... Licciardi over several months” and “never reported feeling threatened or intimidated in any way.”
“The government has not cited one example where a witness has come forward and claimed that he or she was intimidated or threatened” after the charges against Licciardi, 30, became public, the Capitellis claim. “Despite what the government may want, a person accused of a crime is still entitled to the presumption of innocence and afforded the right to investigate and defend against the allegations lodged against him.”
A hearing on the request for a gag order has been tentatively set for March 19.
Polite’s office asked for the order on Feb. 20, two weeks after The New Orleans Advocate published a story using transcripts of interviews Licciardi gave to authorities in 2014, during which he said he had seen former Saints running back Reggie Bush drop Ecstasy into Champagne glasses and hand out the illicit party drug to women on a dance floor at a Las Vegas nightclub.
A lawyer for Bush has denied Licciardi’s claims, accusing the defendant of lying to curry favor with the authorities. Bush has never been accused of any crime related to Licciardi’s assertions.
Polite’s office cited intense media interest in the case involving Licciardi and Sharper as another reason that a gag order protecting victims’ privacy would be appropriate.
Licciardi’s lawyers counter that “media reports have focused in on conduct of other NFL players and not any of the alleged victims.”
Federal authorities have accused Sharper and Licciardi of distributing drugs known by the brand names Ambien, Xanax and Valium “with the intent to commit” rape during a four-year period ending in 2014.
Licciardi resigned from the Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 12 after state and federal indictments related to the case were returned in New Orleans. He is being held without bail in St. Charles Parish on the six-count federal indictment, which also charges him with twice trying to dissuade the female witness from revealing information about him to a grand jury.
Aside from Licciardi, Sharper and Erik Nunez are named in a separate state indictment in Orleans Parish that includes allegations against all three of aggravated rape, a crime carrying a mandatory life prison sentence in Louisiana.
Licciardi and Nunez, 27, have pleaded not guilty. Sharper, 39, is jailed for now in Los Angeles, where he faces charges of rape by use of drugs, four counts of sale or transportation of Ambien and one count of morphine possession. He also is facing rape charges in Arizona and was investigated for similar incidents in Florida and Nevada.