The lights were off and the doors locked at the tony Ohm nightclub on Tchoupitoulas Street one morning in November 2013 when a Saintsations cheerleader woke up and staggered to her feet inside the ladies’ room.
She was wobbly — covered in vomit — as she searched for a way out.
The club’s management later pulled the video from the previous night. Their suspicions centered on a man at the bar who reached for the woman’s drink while fingering the ballcap he wore backward.
Brandon Licciardi was a regular, partying at Ohm with friends who included current and former Saints, among them retired safety Darren Sharper. The woman would later say she had confronted Licciardi near the bar, screaming that his buddy Sharper had raped her friend, an ex-teammate on the Saintsations, months earlier.
Ohm managers wanted to report the possible drugging. But in their view, it wasn’t as simple as calling police.
Licciardi, now 30, was a veteran St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office sergeant, a reputedly “made” man in local law enforcement. His dad was a retired colonel who had served in the Sheriff’s Office for 35 years and was a close friend and business partner of longtime St. Bernard Sheriff Jack Stephens.
Joe Licciardi and Stephens had been partners in Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the venerable Bourbon Street bar. Brandon had worked there as a weekend manager during high school.
According to sources, the younger Licciardi wasn’t shy about exploiting his pedigree.
Even calling New Orleans police, the club’s managers thought, was too close to home. So they dialed up the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office instead.
“The impression was that he had pull,” Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said of Licciardi.
The drugging allegation would fold into a wider probe by the NOPD, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office and the FBI that eventually led to the filing of federal and state charges against Sharper, Licciardi and, in the state indictment, former Morton’s Steakhouse waiter Erik Nunez.
Although Sharper has the biggest name, Licciardi faces the most charges. He stands accused in all six counts of the federal indictment and five of nine charges in the state case, including an aggravated rape count that carries a life sentence.
The last state charge, battery with a dangerous weapon, relates to the woman who awoke in the Ohm bathroom.
With Sharper striking a deal in March to admit drugging and either raping or trying to rape nine women in four states — a deal that requires him to spend at least nine more years in prison and to fully cooperate with authorities — Licciardi now finds himself in the crosshairs.
It’s ironic, perhaps, given that Licciardi — however belatedly — provided authorities with key evidence that helped sink Sharper in the Louisiana rape cases.
So who is Licciardi? Is he, as his attorneys claim, a young wannabe who relished a taste of celebrity while remaining ignorant of his high-profile pal’s criminal designs?
Or was he, as prosecutors portray him, a mule for potent pills, a rapist himself and equal partners with Sharper in executing a simple playbook for taking advantage of drug-addled women?
Licciardi’s lawyer, Ralph Capitelli, says it was the former.
“Brandon Licciardi was a star-struck, 26-year-old kid when he met the All-Pro, Super Bowl hero Darren Sharper,” Capitelli said recently. “He ended up running errands for Sharper, including picking him up at the airport and doing things for him, being with him when he was in town occasionally, socializing, but he was not someone who provided drugs.
“He is totally opposed to drugs ... and certainly was not involved in drugging any women so that rape could occur.”
Licciardi has pleaded not guilty to all charges in both state and federal courts.
Prosecutors put a harder edge on the portrait Capitelli offered, arguing that Licciardi was a veteran peace officer who crossed a number of ethical and criminal lines.
Not formally charged, but alleged in court proceedings, are claims that Licciardi worked as a bookie for Sharper and others, and that he brutally beat his girlfriend — all while maintaining a clean disciplinary record at the Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Miller in court described Licciardi as a well-trained officer “whose prior position, father’s position gives him a sort of special position and ... nobility in that particular area. But he has the, obviously, ability to intimidate.”
— Ascending deputy —
Early on, it didn’t figure that young Brandon would be following in his father’s footsteps.
Joe Licciardi had fathered Brandon with a mistress who took care of the boy from birth. But two days before Christmas in 1987, she brought the 2-year-old to Joe’s wife, Paula Licciardi, who testified last year in federal court.
“You take him, my mother takes him, or he goes to a foster home,” the woman said, according to Paula Licciardi. “Because I can’t handle it.”
From there, Brandon grew up with three half-sisters, his stepmom and Joe. Brandon, who was diagnosed at 5 with ADHD and who repeated kindergarten, eventually graduated from Chalmette High, where he won a district football championship, Paula Licciardi recounted.
Meanwhile, Brandon worked at places where his dad had stroke, including Lafitte’s and the St. Bernard sheriff’s fitness center. At 20, he joined the Sheriff’s Office full time.
“Law enforcement appeals to me in a few reasons but most of all I love to do what I can to help people out in anyway that I can do so,” he wrote in his application. “Law officers should get paid better for risking there (sic) life everyday. But other than that I love the job.”
He was assigned to street crimes before moving to narcotics within two months, records show. Within two years, his pay had jumped from $20,000 to $34,000. He was promoted to corporal in 2008, records show, and in 2010, he transferred to the Traffic Division. Later that year, he was promoted to sergeant and got another salary bump.
The sense around the Sheriff’s Office was that Licciardi made sergeant only because of his father and that he never showed leadership ability, said two sources who knew Licciardi as a rising deputy.
As Licciardi ascended, he was also plucked for side jobs, including a plum detail at a Bourbon Street bar where Sharper was the celebrity bartender on opening night. Licciardi’s assignment: driving Sharper to and from the bar.
The young deputy and the handsome All-Pro became friends that night in 2010. According to federal prosecutors, their alleged conspiracy to drug women for rape started soon afterward.
Sharper even gave Licciardi the key to his condo. And according to the state indictment, they booked adjoining rooms at a Tchoupitoulas Street hotel in August 2013. Licciardi had a night planned with a Lafayette woman he’d met on Facebook.
He had sex with her first, then took her to a club where Sharper waited, pouring drinks and smoking what the woman believed was marijuana, she told authorities. Sharper returned her to the hotel room and raped her, texting Licciardi, “We need an hour in here,” prosecutors allege.
— Troubling texts —
That wasn’t the only troubling text Sharper sent Licciardi. The lawman opened one the morning after the ex-Saintsation had gone to Sharper’s condo, to find a video showing what he believed was Sharper’s penis and a vagina.
Licciardi watched it as he lay in bed with his girlfriend, who was apoplectic, he said in an early 2014 interview at Cannizzaro’s office after he’d been served with a grand jury subpoena.
At the time, he told investigators, he didn’t think a rape had occurred. In any case, he said, receiving such texts from Sharper and others wasn’t unusual. Sharper once sent Licciardi’s girlfriend a text of a penis as a prank. Sharper had sent other sex videos to Licciardi, the deputy said.
“He would send you, just out of the blue, just send you a photo, a video, of him having sex with a female or a white girl?” DA’s investigator Jim O’Hern asked.?“Right,” Licciardi responded, later adding that he had “never received a video with anything wrong on the video, ever, from him.”
Licciardi admitted that he had failed to mention the Sept. 23 video in an earlier interview with NOPD Detective Derrick Williams, who investigated the Saintsation’s allegation that Sharper raped her that same night.
“I didn’t even — I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Licciardi said.
Yet, as Licciardi knew, an acquaintance who managed a Bourbon Street bar thought something was very wrong.
Tony Stafford that night had seen the woman — a mutual friend — at Jax nightclub on Decatur Street. She seemed to be with Sharper and badly impaired, Stafford said. He approached Sharper, but the retired football star brushed him off. Sharper told Stafford the woman was fine, “ready” and “on that potion,” Stafford said. Sharper then left with the woman, but Stafford wouldn’t let the matter go.
“None of it sat right ... (so) I called up Brandon” to check on the woman, Stafford said in an interview. “(Brandon) was a mutual friend” and a cop. He knew Sharper.”
Licciardi had ridden to the club with Sharper and the woman that night. But he left Jax quickly.
“So I said, ‘I’m taking a cab, so if you need a cab, I’ll pay for it,’ ” Licciardi said of the Saintsation. “And she looked at Darren, and she goes, ‘Nah, I’m gonna stay with chu, is that cool?’ And Darren was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ So I mean, she’s 24, 25 years old. She’s a big girl.”
But the cheerleader told police Licciardi ditched her and left her with Sharper.
Licciardi also said he went to Sharper’s condo to check on the woman at Stafford’s urging, but Sharper shooed him away and clicked the deadbolt.
It wasn’t until after Sharper was arrested that Licciardi suspected his famous friend might have committed rape, he later told investigators.
Federal prosecutors believe Licciardi not only knew what Sharper was up to but was a key actor in the drugging and rape scheme.
They charged Licciardi and Sharper with conspiring to drug the woman for Sharper to rape, and also with lying to investigators and trying to dissuade a witness from mentioning him.
Under questioning, Licciardi claimed he was oblivious to what allegedly went on around him.
Asked if he knew about other women being drugged, Licciardi mentioned that Stafford had told him of the incident at Ohm. Licciardi claimed he left the woman following her rant and recounted her claim to former Saint Roman Harper, Sharper’s close friend, who was at the club after winning a home game that day.
“Roman’s like, ‘Dude, from all my knowledge, you ain’t got nothing to do with it,’ ” Licciardi told investigators. “ ‘Erik and Darren was there. You ... got nothing to worry about.’ ”
It’s unclear whether Harper knew of the alleged rapes at Sharper’s condo. Now a Carolina Panthers safety, he has not been charged with anything. He has declined multiple interview requests.
— Probe heats up —
Investigators would come to doubt much of what Licciardi initially told them.
Capitelli countered that Licciardi was mistrustful when Williams questioned him.
“My client clearly questioned the sincerity and the integrity and the honesty of the NOPD investigation,” Capitelli said.
He also didn’t want to believe the accusations, Capitelli said: “There’s a lot of people, and probably law enforcement as well, that didn’t want to believe that a New Orleans Saints Super Bowl hero could do such horrendous things, and I think my client was in that number.”
After first saying he had pawned his iPhone, Licciardi later produced the device with videos and texts from Sharper and others.
The phone, it seemed, helped unlock a case that had been in limbo.
Ultimately, Capitelli said, what Licciardi said to investigators jibed with what Sharper’s victims said.
“It’s important to note that clearly Sharper has admitted to being a one-man crime wave,” Capitelli said. “Here’s a man who admitted to committing rapes in (four) separate states, where not only my client was not involved, he never was in (three of) those states.”
However, Cannizzaro’s investigators turned up more women with complaints against Sharper — and Licciardi.
Among them: a woman who said she met Licciardi in 2011. “At first, he was totally cool, and then I guess a couple of months later ... he started being a little more of an a**hole, so I cut that off,” the woman told authorities.
Licciardi didn’t relent, though, and they met up one night. She said they got drunk, and Licciardi later left her in Sharper’s condo, where the Super Bowl champion soon strolled in naked.
The woman bolted, passed out in the street and was picked up by a good Samaritan, she told police. In her case, Licciardi was charged with human trafficking.
Authorities claim another woman was drugged by Licciardi and Sharper after they met her at a Playboy party at Jax two days before the Super Bowl in 2013. Licciardi is accused of raping the woman at Sharper’s condo.
And in an allegation that has not led to any charges, another woman reported that Licciardi took her to his Arabi daiquiri stand, the Daq Shaq, which he opened in 2012. She said Licciardi at one point went behind the bar and got her a drink; she ended up at his place, where he tried to have sex with her.
She said she ordered Licciardi to stop and reacted with surprise when Licciardi told her they’d already had sex.
Licciardi wasn’t jailed until the December indictments, long after Sharper’s arrest in Los Angeles in January 2014 and Nunez’s booking five weeks later. But with the probe heating up, he was moved June 19 to a desk job in the Sheriff’s Office’s information technology department.
— ‘Didn’t seem to care’ —
An FBI agent testified in December that Licciardi’s illegal action went beyond rapes and druggings.
When Brandon turned 21, Joe Licciardi asked a family friend, Kris Kent, to look out for him. Kent runs a tax service in St. Bernard Parish; he is also a bookie, FBI agent DeWayne Horner testified in court.
Horner said Licciardi recruited new bettors for Kent. The deputy also would make collections.
One of the people Licciardi brought in was Sharper, who wanted to place bigger bets than Kent could handle. Licciardi helped the former NFL star wager up to $25,000 on fights and on baseball and football games with a group of Russians who ran a larger book in California, Horner testified.
Kent, who hasn’t been charged, couldn’t be reached for comment.
He told the FBI agent that Sharper, betting online, lost big with the Russians’ book, and Licciardi suggested Sharper wasn’t going to pay, Horner testified.
“The Russians can get your IP address ... and they will come kill you,” Kent said he cautioned Licciardi, according to Horner’s sworn account.
But Licciardi “didn’t seem to care,” Horner recalled Kent telling him.
Licciardi also didn’t hide that he beat up his girlfriend, a Kent employee herself, the agent testified.
Kent told the FBI that Licciardi had texted him to explain why the woman had been out of work, saying, “She got wasted and I beat ... her. ... I probably will go to jail if she wants me to.”
That same girlfriend later told Licciardi’s birth mother, Jeanette Mocklin, that Licciardi was nervous over a text he sent Sharper reading, “She’s ready,” another FBI agent, Robert Blythe, testified.
The text referred to the ex-Saintsation Sharper is accused of raping in September 2013, echoing the comment Stafford said he heard from Sharper.
Whether prosecutors will seek to use those uncharged allegations against Licciardi in the double-fisted state and federal prosecution is unclear.
But the claims may have weighed on a federal judge’s decision in December to deny Licciardi bail. He’s been behind bars now for five months, since an unusual surrender negotiation took place within hours after the indictments were handed up in court on Dec. 12.
As he had been for his son’s rise through the Sheriff’s Office, Joe Licciardi was there too that day.
Brandon quickly resigned from the Sheriff’s Office, in a 14-word handwritten letter. He then spotted a federal surveillance unit posted outside his house. Soon, Joe Licciardi arrived.
Before long St. Bernard Parish Sheriff James Pohlmann was ringing up Horner’s phone, the agent said.
“(He was) telling me that we need to be very careful of Mr. Licciardi, and that it could be a very dangerous situation, because he didn’t know how his father would react to his son being indicted,” Horner testified.
Another FBI agent contacted Joe Licciardi. The FBI turned down a proposal for Brandon to surrender at his lawyer’s downtown office but let Joe Licciardi drive his son to them, Horner said.
The FBI didn’t take any chances with the unusual arrangement.
“We put a car in front of him, we had three cars behind him, and we had an airplane flying overhead,” Horner said.
Joe Licciardi’s son surrendered peacefully. He awaits a trial scheduled for Oct. 13.