Seven men arrested last year on suspicion of reducing the antebellum LeBeau Plantation house in Old Arabi to ashes during a spectacular fire have pleaded guilty to arson or trespassing charges, with four of them receiving prison terms.
The fire happened early Nov. 22 and was deliberately set after the men — door-to-door salesmen hawking subscriptions to The Times-Picayune — got high and went looking for ghosts in the purportedly haunted mansion, St. Bernard Parish James Pohlmann said at the time.
Dusten Davenport, who admitted starting the fire, Joshua Brisco, Jerry Hamblen and Joseph Landin all pleaded guilty to an arson charge before Judge Jacques Sanborn in 34th Judicial District Court.
All but Landin were sentenced to 11 years in prison, with five years of the term suspended and with credit for time served in St. Bernard Parish Prison since their arrests, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Landin was sentenced to 10 years in prison with five years suspended and with credit for time served.
The men, all of whom were from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, will be on probation for five years after they serve their sentences.
Kevin Barbe, who lives in Arabi, Bryon Meek and Joshua Allen each pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing.
Barbe, who was released from jail in January after posting bond, was sentenced to six months in the parish jail, with all but 50 days suspended. He had served that amount of time before his release, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Meek and Allen, both from the Dallas area, each were given six-month sentences with credit for time served.
Allen was released after the sentencing, while Meek was sent to Texas on a probation hold. Details about that hold were not immediately available.
The men were arrested within hours of the fire following tips from neighbors who reported seeing several people coming from the property. One of those people was identified as Barbe.
The two-story, 10,000-square-foot Greek Revival mansion was built in the mid-1800s by Francois Barthelemy LeBeau, a wealthy New Orleans businessman with interests in sugar cane farming, railroads and banking.
He spared no expense on its construction, but for all the care he put into its design, LeBeau never got to enjoy his home. He died at age 48 in 1854, the same year it was completed.
His wife and children remained there and renamed it Eclipse Plantation, which grew oranges and raised cattle. In 1905, the family sold the property to the Friscoville Realty Co., and it became a hotel.
It continued to house guests when the Jai-Alai Realty Co. purchased it and also added a casino. While gambling was illegal in New Orleans, it was not against the law in St. Bernard.
The mansion returned to its original use as a home in the 1930s, when members of the Francioni family moved in. They lived there until the late 1950s. The Meraux Foundation bought the home in 1967 and kept a caretaker on the property until the mid-1980s.
The house remained vacant and was never fully restored after a fire in 1986, but it always remained a draw because of its history and lore, parish officials said after the fire.
Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.