It’s been said that you can never quarantine the past: Just ask Julius “Big Man” Ford III, who thought his hustling days were behind him, until he was picked last summer to sit on an Orleans Parish jury.
Ford, a former bouncer at the now-shuttered Kenny’s Key West club in Fat City, was “selling dope, carrying guns” in the late 1990s when an overdose scared him straight, he told a grand jury last fall. But as he sat hearing testimony in a Criminal District Court courtroom last August, in walked a blast from his past.
Sean Patrick Warren was there to support his younger brother and take the witness stand in Casey Warren’s trial on charges of drug dealing, illegal gun possession and public intimidation.
“I’ve always heard that, you know, don’t cross this guy. This guy is — he be bad news. If he don’t touch you, somebody will,” Ford testified of Sean Warren last September, a month after the jury he sat on acquitted Casey Warren on two charges and deadlocked on the gun charge.
“So when they read his criminal history” and Ford’s memory of Sean Warren took hold, “I was like, ‘Oh, dude, I’m dead.’ ”
Sean Warren, who goes by “Pat,” made the connection, too, and he rolled up that evening as Ford sat in his van.
What followed months later — charges filed against Ford and the Warrens in an alleged scheme to influence jury votes, and one brother turning on the other — has added a double twist to a case that already has seen allegations of police misconduct and then a charge against Casey Warren for lying about it.
What followed more immediately, that evening, was a trip to the parking lot of a West Bank daiquiri shop and a blunt offer: $1,000 per “not guilty” vote if Ford could sway his fellow jurors to deadlock; $5,000 if Casey Warren got off scot-free, according to the testimony of both Ford and Sean Warren.
“So he tells me, ‘I need three,’ ” Ford told the grand jury, describing the meet-up inside Sean Warren’s gray Infinity SUV, according to transcripts of his testimony obtained by The New Orleans Advocate.
“What’s three?” asked Ford.
“I need three for my brother to walk,” Sean Warren responded. “Hung jury.”
Ford said he feared for his life — and still does — but that he didn’t push other jurors to change their votes. He also denies taking any money from Sean Warren.
In deliberations, the jury already had decided to acquit Casey Warren, 37, on the cocaine distribution and public intimidation charges before Ford told a few fellow jurors about his run-in with Sean Warren. Among those jurors was Theresa Morris, a detective in the NOPD’s 4th District, where Casey Warren is notorious. His arrest history dates back two decades, some for crimes allegedly committed with his brother.
“I told Detective Morris that, um, I knew Patrick Warren and that me and Patrick Warren had words. So we talked. And I said, ‘He told me he need three,’ ” Ford told the grand jury.
“I said, ‘I’m too deep in this to fool with this. I’m not — I’m not gonna fool with it. I’m gonna let it go. Y’all vote.’ ”
Morris backed up Ford’s account in a statement to police. But it seems she never passed along the information to the jury as a whole, or the judge.
“After she questioned him about his knowledge of Pat Warren, he broke down and began telling her how he was contacted by Pat and eventually met up with him after the second day of the trial,” according to a police report.
Attempts to reach Morris at the 4th District station were unsuccessful. The NOPD’s press office did not immediately respond to a query about whether the department believes the detective handled the matter appropriately.
“It’s news to me that there was a 4th District officer on the jury,” said John Bair, Casey Warren’s trial attorney.
Another juror had been wavering on his vote on the gun count, Ford said. With Ford’s story, he grew anxious and eventually tilted to the not-guilty side, Ford said. That made it 9-3. Hung jury.
Ford had told the grand jury that Sean Warren indicated he knew where Ford lived. Ford said he knew Sean Warren as “one of the big boys” in the drug trade back in the day. Also, Ford once ran a striptease and escort service; Sean Warren’s wife “did a couple of shows for me,” he said.
In the car, Sean Warren said: “So you know how I get down, fam,” according to Ford.
“And now he called me ‘fam,’ so it’s like now I’m in. So now I’m really like I can’t do nothin’ now. I’m dead. I’m stuck. I’m hook, line and sunk in this one.”
At least one grand juror wanted to know why Ford didn’t call police.
Autumn Cheramie, an assistant district attorney in District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, seemed to agree with Ford’s version of events.
“I believe Mr. Ford got in a situation that he didn’t ask to be in, and he didn’t know how to get out of it,” Cheramie told the grand jury. “He may have done some stuff that was not smart, but he did it, and it’s done, and that’s where we’re at.”
But six months after Ford’s testimony, something changed. Ford, 44, whose last arrest in Orleans Parish came in 1990, was charged in March with perjury and public bribery.
Casey Warren also was charged with jury tampering, false swearing and bribery, along with a fresh gun count and new allegations of cocaine dealing.
“To my knowledge, they’ve got zero evidence of him taking any money or working for the Warren family,” said Gregory Carter, one of Ford’s attorneys.
John Fuller, Ford’s other attorney, called it “ludicrous and outrageous that the district attorney fails to net a conviction, and the recourse is to prosecute one of the jurors.”
The charges against Ford and Casey Warren came just a few days after Sean Warren agreed as part of a plea deal to implicate both his younger brother and Ford.
In his statement, Sean Warren repeated a claim by his brother that police planted the drugs that led to his September 2011 arrest in Algiers, for which he was tried in August. But he added that his brother “was glad that they didn’t find what was in the rafters.” He said his brother had kept about a half-kilogram — more than a pound — of powdered cocaine there.
Sean Warren also spelled out the bribery scheme in court, saying both brothers recognized Ford in the courtroom and he made eye contact with Ford.
“Instantly we knew that we knew each other from somewhere. I recognized him. At which time we acknowledged each other with a heads-up,” Sean Warren said.
He said he approached Ford outside of the Chocolate Bar on South Broad Street and they drove across the bridge to the daiquiri shop.
“Mr. Ford told me ... that he could for sure get two other votes to vote not guilty. We agreed upon $1,000 for each not-guilty vote for a total of $3,000, but if he got an acquittal on all the charges the agreement was $5,000,” Sean Warren said.
He said he gave Ford $1,000 in $20 bills initially, and then he and his brother paid Ford another $2,000 when the jury came back with the verdicts.
Sean Warren said he broke with his brother after narcotics detectives notified Casey Warren that he was the subject of a probe.
“I couldn’t jeopardize my business and my family as a result of him. If they came into the house, both of us were going to jail,” he said. “I love my family. I love my children and I don’t want to lose what I have worked for eight years behind something — a poor decision that I made for my brother.”
Sean Warren runs Warren Refinishing, a bathtub and countertop-resurfacing business in Terrytown.
He pleaded guilty May 14 to charges of jury tampering and obstruction. Cannizzaro’s office dropped a perjury charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 14. His attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, declined to discuss the case.
“No comment, no comment, no comment,” Lemann said.
As the jurors deliberated in Casey Warren’s trial in August, they sent a note to Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson, which she read in open court.
“Members — three members of the jury fear that the defendant’s brother monitored them getting in their cars yesterday. Please advise,” Landrum-Johnson read. She then directed the jury to finish its deliberations.
Last week, Landrum-Johnson said she let the deliberations go on because no evidence of jury tampering came to her attention.
“Nobody ever said someone talked to somebody. I didn’t hear any of that,” said the judge.
In any case, Ford, who is now an auto-parts store manager, told police that he was stunned when Landrum-Johnson read the statement. He thought it placed his life in still more danger.
“I feel like I’m a dead duck. I feel like ... I didn’t even ask for this,” he said in an interview with a prosecutor and a police detective. “I mean like I told you, I did a lot of dirt, and maybe this is what I get for not being taught.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.