SORRENTO — Law enforcement officials who served a search warrant Tuesday at the home of Sorrento Town Councilman Randy Anny were focused on a boat that had been sitting idle in his driveway, the town police chief said.
Police Chief Fern Barnett said she spoke with Anny after law enforcement officials on Tuesday arrived at his home on Everett Street near town hall. She said Anny later showed her the search warrant.
Barnett said the warrant only references the boat and trailer, which she said agents took Tuesday, and did not even have Anny’s name on it.
“We don’t really know what’s going on, but Randy’s name was nowhere on that paperwork,” Barnett said Wednesday.
She said the boat could be seen sitting in front of Anny’s home by anyone passing on Main Street for probably a year and never seemed to move.
Barnett said agents had to replace two dry-rotted tires on the trailer before they could move the boat — dubbed “Who’s Ya Daddy,” according to a photograph posted on The Creole, an online news site covering Ascension Parish.
Barnett could not say what agencies were involved with the search and did not see any indication on the warrant, though she said she was told the FBI was involved.
One of Anny’s neighbors, who declined to be named, said she saw three or four vehicles at his home in the late morning Tuesday and saw agents with FBI lettered on their vests. The woman said she saw the vehicles and the agents and then closed her door.
“I don’t know what they were doing there,” the woman said at her home Wednesday.
At least one other neighbor reported seeing a group of vehicles at Anny’s home Tuesday but did not know at the time that they were law enforcement vehicles.
Barnett’s department apparently was not involved in the search. She oversees a largely defunct Police Department that voters abolished in the November election. She is leaving office next month following a protracted power struggle with the Town Council over her pay.
Other town and parish officials who could be reached Wednesday declined to comment on any occurrences at the longtime councilman’s home Tuesday, including Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert and Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley.
Others, like Councilman Don Schexnaydre, said they had no information.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge also declined comment Wednesday.
When asked about the apparent search Tuesday and told of Barnett’s comments, Craig Betbeze, an FBI spokesman in New Orleans, provided the agency’s standard response Wednesday: “The FBI generally cannot comment on or even confirm the existence of any pending investigation until there is something in the public record.”
Anny has not returned messages for comment to his cellphone or one left at his door late Wednesday morning.
Talk of some sort of federal probe into Sorrento has swirled around town hall for nearly two years but details have been scarce.
Shortly after the talk emerged in August 2013, then newly elected Mayor Lambert said he was given a subpoena from a federal grand jury for documents from town hall.
At the time, Lambert and other new council members had been raising questions about Anny’s handling of a sewer contract in mid-2012 that they contended was not completed.
Anny disputed any impropriety but, as mayor pro tempore, he had check-writing authority at the time the contract was awarded because then-Mayor Wilson Longanecker Jr. had an extended absence from his post due to illness.
Town Attorney Matthew Percy had said then that the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office was investigating the sewer contract, though Sheriff Wiley had declined comment then on any investigation his department may or may not have been involved with.
Lambert has said he turned over the documents sought by the subpoena but refused to describe the documents or to say what they pertained to. After The Advocate filed a public records request for the subpoena in the fall 2013, Percy refused even to acknowledge the town received a subpoena while also refusing to provide one.
“Federal rules prevent Sorrento from providing any such subpoena, if one were to exist,” Percy wrote in an Oct. 16, 2013, email.
It’s not clear what interest the FBI may have with Anny or his boat. Though Lambert says the town has made progress in turning around its finances and its general management, the past year and a half has been a rough period for Sorrento.
Former Police Chief Earl Theriot resigned from office and pleaded guilty in February 2014 of lying to an FBI agent about inappropriate sexual conduct with a severely drunken woman.
In October, former Mayor Longanecker was arrested on child porn counts and, then in late December, on animal cruelty counts. Those charges are still pending. Longanecker, who served as mayor from mid-2011 to mid-2013, has pleaded not guilty, but his attorney said last month he is reserving Longanecker’s ability to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Barnett won the right to replace Theriot by default after two other candidates dropped out of the November election.
Lambert, Schexnaydre and other council members argued Barnett should step down after voters did away with her job but Barnett stayed on, though her department had no officers nor insurance.
Barnett and town officials recently reached a settlement in her lawsuit over her pay as chief. The town is paying her $16,825 in back pay in exchange for her ending the suit and her departure March 21.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.