Scott Sewell, a New Orleans businessman who claims federal prosecutors went easy on a crooked contractor in return for the man’s testimony against former Mayor Ray Nagin — and cheated Sewell out of millions of dollars in the process — is making some headway in dragging his fight with the government into the public eye.
Sewell’s attorney, Tim Meche, filed a motion last week saying Sewell “opposes the filing of additional documents in this case under seal by any party,” including any documents filed in response to his request to open all the pleadings filed so far.
And late Friday, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan unsealed one of those responses, which had been filed under seal last week by Sewell’s nemesis, convicted Mandeville businessman Frank Fradella.
What makes Sewell’s crusade odd is that the matter has ostensibly been kept under wraps to protect Sewell’s reputation. But it’s federal prosecutors and Fradella who apparently have fought to keep it sealed.
Even with Morgan’s decision Friday, it’s not clear whether Sewell’s broader effort to expose the particulars of Fradella’s plea agreement — and get into Fradella’s bank account — will bear fruit. Morgan has yet to render a decision on his request to unseal all pleadings in the case.
The document unsealed Friday, filed by Fradella’s attorney, Randy Smith, argues that a blanket unsealing would be a mistake. In particular, it argues that documents disclosing Fradella’s medical conditions and a presentence investigation of Fradella conducted by federal probation officers should be kept out of public view.
Sewell wants the case unsealed only to “gratify spite and promote public scandal,” Smith argued.
Sewell claims Fradella cheated him out of more than $5 million when Fradella’s firm, Home Solutions of America, bought Sewell’s construction company in 2006 but never finished paying for it.
Sewell says Fradella stiffed him because he was angry that Sewell had turned whistleblower and was cooperating with the FBI to expose Fradella’s misdeeds.
Fradella eventually would be charged in two separate criminal schemes, one involving a plan to “pump and dump” shares of stock in his company after inflating its value through bogus news releases and a second in which he paid bribes to Nagin.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Fradella pleaded guilty to two felony counts. After serving as a key witness against Nagin, he was sentenced by Morgan to one year in prison, a sentence he is serving now.
Sewell sought to be recognized as a victim by the courts, which would have entitled him to restitution from Fradella. But at the government’s urging, a federal magistrate judge declined to grant Sewell that status.
Precisely why prosecutors opposed declaring Sewell a victim is unclear, as almost all of the pleadings in the case are sealed, but one government filing suggested that Sewell’s hands were unclean, in part because he had “contemporaneous knowledge of the underlying fraud of his business associates,” including Fradella.
Smith’s filing scoffs at Sewell’s suggestion that federal prosecutors have done anything unusual for Fradella, saying federal probation departments, judges, appellate judges and magistrates have all rejected Sewell’s claim of victimhood.
Moreover, Smith says, Sewell has a judgment against only long-defunct Home Solutions, not Fradella personally, meaning there is no scenario in which Fradella could be ordered to repay him anyway.
“Mr. Fradella has not been ‘protected’ by the government,” Smith wrote. “Rather, the federal probation departments, prosecutors and the federal district court all recognized Mr. Fradella’s admirable cooperation with the government, particularly in the Nagin case, and adhered to common procedural practices.”
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.