SORRENTO — Former Sorrento Mayor and Town Councilman Wilson Longanecker Jr. was arrested Thursday in a multiagency child pornography sting and was led to jail from his home less than a mile from Town Hall, providing one more blow to a town trying to overcome a string of events that have been, at turns, disturbing and embarrassing.
Investigators who searched Longanecker’s three-story, columned home at 7284 Main St. on Thursday found 40 pornography videos of children between the ages of 3 and 14 years old engaging in sexual activities or being posed in a sexual manner, authorities said.
Longanecker, 41, tried to hide evidence while investigators were serving the search warrant, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office said in a news release. A spokesman for the office would not say Thursday how exactly Longanecker tried to hide the evidence.
Longanecker, who operates a pool business in Gonzales, was arrested on 40 counts of possession of pornography involving juveniles and one count of obstruction of justice, said Steven Hartmann, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
State law forbids anyone from producing, distributing, possessing or possessing with the intent to distribute pornography involving juveniles, Hartmann said.
Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said Longanecker was booked into Ascension Parish Prison near Donaldsonville. He remained there Thursday evening, the jail website says.
Longanecker, the son of former two-term Sorrento mayor Wilson Longanecker Sr., was a former town councilman who won the mayor’s post in a court-ordered election in May 2011 after the results of the April 2011 race were contested.
Longanecker Jr. filled the term of former Mayor Blake LeBlanc, who had stepped down the previous October. He promised when he took office to serve with dignity and to think of the town’s reputation, saying neither he nor council members should say or do anything that would “embarrass this community.”
But after a term marred by controversy and an injured foot that kept him away from the office for months, Longanecker did not seek re-election to a full term in April 2013. He also lost in a bid to regain an at-large seat on the council.
Longanecker faces between five and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 on each child porn count if convicted, the Attorney General’s Office said.
The former mayor’s arrest is the latest blow to fall on the small Ascension Parish of Sorrento.
Sorrento residents watched for more than year as their Police Department unraveled. Former longtime Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr., who won re-election in March 2013 when his only opponent withdrew, resigned and was convicted of lying to an FBI agent about “inappropriate sexual contact” with a heavily intoxicated woman.
The chief’s conviction, as well as disclosures and lawsuits over alleged misdeeds by Sorrento officers, have fueled a push to abolish the department and the position of elected chief, which voters will be asked to consider Nov. 4.
Blaze Rivere, 19, a Sorrento native who lives along Main Street with his family about half-mile from Longanecker, called the child pornography allegations disturbing and the string of bad news about his hometown weird.
“It’s, like, I grew up in this town, and now they’re having, like, all this happen. It’s so close. You only think about that in different states or in different parishes, not in the town that you live in,” Rivere said.
Current Mayor Mike Lambert said the arrest caught him and other town officials by surprise, but declined to speak further.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to make a comment,” said Lambert, who was elected mayor last year after Longanecker’s father, Wilson Longanecker Sr., withdrew from the mayoral race, though he had led in the April 2013 primary.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office Cyber Crime Unit, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, State Police and Homeland Security Investigations, the criminal investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were all part of the probe into Wilson Longanecker Jr.
The inquiry did not include Sorrento Police Department, which currently has no officers and is not funded by the town, although it has had a new police chief since Oct. 9.
Hartmann said Chief Fern Barnett was not included because the investigation began before she became chief.
Barnett, who has no law enforcement experience, won the chief’s job after two other candidates to fill Theriot’s remaining term dropped out. She said her job remains an administrative one until she can get liability insurance.
The department has been without insurance for nearly a year and daily police protection has fallen to the Sheriff’s Office.
Barnett is pressing residents to vote to retain the department and her post so she can build the department back up. But other town officials, including Lambert, are pushing to abolish the police department and chief’s job. They want to allow the Sheriff’s Office to continue offering police protection.
Hartmann would not describe what kind of evidence was collected from Longanecker’s home.
Wiley said his deputies helped serve the search warrant and found evidence to support the allegations against Longanecker. He declined to provide further details.
Longanecker did not respond to messages left on his cellphone and at his door Thursday evening. A family member at his parents’ home in Sorrento also declined comment.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.