Murphy J. Painter, the former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner who has battled abuse of power allegations for a year but maintains he is the target of politically motivated attacks, filed Thursday to run for sheriff of Ascension Parish.
Painter, who served as an Ascension sheriff’s chief criminal deputy in the 1980s, faces incumbent Sheriff Jeff Wiley in the Oct. 22 primary election, according to the secretary of state’s website.
Painter qualified as another candidate for sheriff, Donaldsonville resident Louis Boudreaux, said Thursday he would drop out of the race after qualifying Wednesday.
“Let them battle it head-to- head, head-on,” Boudreaux said of Wiley and Painter, who are running as independents.
While Painter sought Ascension’s top law enforcement job Thursday, further indications emerged that he faces the threat of criminal prosecution.
A state inspector general’s report released in February examined abuse of power allegations regarding Painter’s use of state databases.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday that it is his understanding federal prosecutors are reviewing that report as a basis for federal prosecution.
“If they decide to prosecute, I will defer to them,” Moore said. “If not, I will then prosecute the case on the state level.”
Moore said the report was forwarded to his office as well as to federal prosecutors. He said his staff has spoken with federal prosecutors and the Inspector General’s Office about how their respective agencies would handle the case.
The report alleges Painter used his ATC post to illegally obtain information on judges, the governor’s staff, U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s wife and others more than 1,000 times during a five-year period.
Walt Green, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, said his office could neither confirm nor deny any ongoing investigation regarding Painter.
Painter responded to Moore’s comments by declaring that he is not aware of any state or federal charges being contemplated against him, though it has been more than a year since he left office in August 2010.
Painter said he has done nothing that would disqualify him from running for office.
“I have no comment,” Painter said, “on anything Mr. Hillar has said or anybody else — other than that all investigations that I have done or anyone else has done on this matter since Aug. 13 (2010) has shown this was an orchestrated fabrication of allegations that were intended to defame me.”
Painter questioned exactly what charges Moore could bring against him based on the inspector general’s findings.
Moore shot back later Thursday that Painter definitely knows about the legal problems he’s facing.
“He knows exactly what he has been investigated for and he knows what everybody is looking at, and I am not going to give him a response,” Moore said.
State Inspector General Stephen B. Street Jr. confirmed Thursday that his agency’s report had been referred to appropriate prosecutorial authorities and is being reviewed. Street said his office stands 100 percent behind its report on Painter.
Before Moore’s comments about possibly prosecuting Painter became known, Painter said he was running for sheriff to give voters a “bona fide” choice in the sheriff’s election and said he does not want people to live in fear of their government.
“I think it’s important for people to have a choice in the office, and I am also running because I think that things have turned around, and good, honest people are in fear of doing the right thing because of political situations,” Painter said.
Sheriff Wiley, who once worked under Painter and is seeking a fifth term as sheriff, was unopposed in the 2003 and 2007 elections.
Wiley said he wants voters to examine his record and his opponent’s record and let the people decide.
Painter served as chief criminal deputy under former Sheriff Harold Tridico until Painter was demoted in 1987 and not recommissioned when Tridico was sworn in for his fourth term in July 1988.
In August 2010, Painter was sued by his former administrative assistant, Kelli Suire, who accused him of sexually harassing and stalking her.
Suire alleged in the suit that Painter used the National Crime Information Center database to search for personal information on her and her attorney, Jill Craft.
Painter’s former employer, the state Department of Revenue, settled that suit and several other claims last month. The department oversees ATC.
Painter has denied those allegations and said they have been shown to be bogus.
Last month, Painter filed suit in state court, claiming he was fired as ATC chief in August 2010 because he refused to grant a liquor license for an entertainment square outside the Louisiana Superdome.
Painter, who wants to be re-instated as ATC commissioner, is suing the Governor’s Office and ATC for wrongful termination. The suit is in its preliminary stages in 19th Judicial District Court.
Advocate staff writer Darlene Denstorff contributed to this report.