Darren Sharper co-defendant Erik Nunez charged in federal court with impeding investigation _lowres

Erik Nunez

A former Morton’s steakhouse waiter already facing state rape and obstruction charges in New Orleans in the Darren Sharper case was indicted in federal court Friday, accused of getting rid of a phone to stymie a federal investigation.

Sharper’s name is no longer on the indictment in the federal drugging case, after the ex-Saints safety pleaded guilty to three drug counts. The superseding indictment handed up Friday — besides adding Erik Nunez, 28, to the federal case — again names former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi on a host of drug and witness tampering counts.

It also adds some details to the allegations against Licciardi, including reference to his use of the illicit party drug Ecstasy, along with prescription drugs, allegedly to prime women for rape.

The indictment filed Friday by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office charges Nunez with conspiring to “alter, destroy, mutilate and conceal” a cellphone and the information it contained sometime between Sept. 23, 2013, and Dec. 1, 2013, “with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding, that is, a federal grand jury.”

While the feds apparently didn’t get involved in the case until early 2014, Sept. 23, 2013, was the date that two women, including a former Saintsations cheerleader, say they were raped by Sharper and Nunez at the former NFL All-Pro’s condo on Tchoupitoulas Street.

The charge against Nunez appears similar to a state charge against him for trying to erase incriminating text messages from his phone after the two women told authorities he and Sharper raped them that night. Nunez also is accused of two counts of aggravated rape, a crime that carries a mandatory life prison term.

Nunez faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 if he is found guilty of the charge against him in the federal indictment, Polite’s office said Friday.

One of his attorneys, Herb Larson, declined to comment Friday on Nunez’s indictment.

The revised indictment came after Sharper admitted in federal court that he drugged his victims by giving them alcoholic drinks spiked with drugs such as Ecstasy, Ambien, Xanax and Valium.

In exchange for serving nine more years in prison before being eligible for parole, Sharper has pleaded either guilty or no contest to raping or attempting to rape a total of nine women in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Tempe, Arizona. As part of his unusual “global” plea deal, he has agreed to share with investigators any knowledge he may have of crimes committed by others.

Sharper still awaits a formal sentencing in several courts, and U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo in New Orleans has yet to endorse the deal.

In December, Nunez was charged in state court alongside Sharper with the September 2013 rape of two women at the former NFLer’s condo in New Orleans. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, while Sharper admitted he raped those two women as well as a third a few weeks earlier.

Licciardi, 30, was accused of rape, human trafficking and other crimes in the state case. He has pleaded not guilty in both state and federal courts.

The revised federal indictment accuses Licciardi of conspiring to help Sharper carry out the drugging scheme. State prosecutors have charged Licciardi with raping a woman he met while hanging out with Sharper at a pre-Super Bowl party in New Orleans.

Friday’s indictment is more direct about allegations that Licciardi withheld information pertaining to two rape victims in interviews with investigators from the New Orleans Police Department and District Attorney’s Office.

It identifies those victims by their initials and also says Licciardi lied when he told investigators he didn’t know what the term “Molly Wop” meant, that he didn’t know of any prior druggings of unsuspecting women by Sharper and in “his assertion that he had never taken a drugged or drunken women to Darren Sharper’s condominium.”

State prosecutors also accuse Licciardi of providing Sharper his rape victims, and federal prosecutors claim Licciardi twice tried to dissuade a female witness from testifying before a grand jury hearing the case.

Licciardi has denied all charges.

Friday’s indictment came after a successful effort by Nunez’s and Licciardi’s lawyers to get a new judge to preside over the state case. The state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal recently removed Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman because it found the district court’s rules for allotting some criminal cases — including those of Sharper’s co-defendants — violated due process.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office is expected to appeal that decision.

Sharper played in the NFL from 1997 to 2010 with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. He met Nunez and Licciardi while in New Orleans, where he helped the Saints win the Super Bowl at the end of the 2009 NFL season.

John Simerman contributed to this report.