A federal judge on Thursday seemed to agree with attorneys for Walter Reed who argue that the 18-count indictment handed up in April against the former longtime district attorney of St. Tammany and Washington parishes and his son, Steven Reed, is mushy about some of the allegations and money involved.
But U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon stopped short of ordering U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office to answer a lengthy list of questions from Reed’s attorneys about the evidence, instead pressing the two sides to try to hash it out on their own.
Although the government has turned over some 57,000 pages of documents, Reed’s attorney, Rick Simmons, maintains that the indictment accusing Walter Reed and his son of wire and mail fraud, money laundering and filing false tax statements is fatally flimsy on specifics.
Among the questions is just how much Reed is alleged to owe in unpaid taxes. The indictment includes four counts accusing Reed of filing false statements on income tax returns.
Simmons last month filed a “bill of particulars” asking for a host of information, ranging from how much Walter Reed allegedly overpaid his son for work on campaign events to the names of two businesses that allegedly overcharged for their services as part of a scheme to kick money back to the younger Reed.
Simmons has acknowledged that the government has since turned over more information, including the names of the two firms — evidently White Oak Productions, of New Orleans, and the Lake House, a restaurant in Mandeville. But in a legal filing Wednesday, he said much remains undisclosed.
“Did Steven Reed provide no services, some services or services insufficient in the mind of prosecutors to qualify as commensurate?” Simmons wrote in the filing. “This leaves the defendants subject to the vagueness of an indictment inexcusably (unclear) as to the exact amounts involved in the fraud, and also the amounts of ‘unreported income’ alleged in the tax counts.”
The indictment, Simmons argued Thursday, repeats some figures, seeming to inflate the amounts of allegedly misused funds. He told Fallon that he may file a motion to strike portions of the indictment.
Simmons tallied more than $56,000 in income that the government claims Reed failed to report but for which it has provided no specifics.
“This isn’t horseshoes, Judge. Close doesn’t count. What is it that we’re defending?” Simmons argued. “For us to wait for trial to find out what events are being challenged is too late.”
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Westling, Polite’s second-in-command, defended the indictment, arguing that the government laid out “examples of conduct,” with a detailed description of the alleged scheme.
In a June 10 filing, Westling and federal prosecutor Jordan Ginsberg labeled Reed’s legal push a “thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the discovery rules and improperly obtain disclosure of the government’s evidence and theory of prosecution, to which they are not entitled.”
Fallon agreed that the government should give Reed’s attorneys at least a firmer estimate of the allegedly unpaid taxes, saying, “It’s so vague at this point.”
But he declined to grant Reed’s formal request, asking the two sides to meet and return for a July 25 status conference.
The federal case hinges largely on the claim that Reed sought to feather his nest by helping himself to taxpayer money that wasn’t his and by converting campaign cash to personal use, some of which prosecutors say was diverted to Reed’s son.
The indictment also accuses Reed of fraud in his work for St. Tammany Parish Hospital, claiming he took money for himself — roughly $30,000 a year for 20 years — that should have gone to the District Attorney’s Office.
But the bulk of the 30-page indictment describes an alleged conspiracy by father and son to funnel campaign money to the younger Reed by having Reed’s campaign overpay for work purported to be for the district attorney’s re-election efforts.
Those alleged overpayments included an anti-drug video and Steven Reed’s supposed services at fundraisers that the elder Reed held at the Castine Center in Mandeville. The indictment also says the younger Reed received money from his father’s campaign in connection with a housewarming party that the government says had nothing to do with the campaign.
Simmons declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.