Generous payments from Walter Reed’s political war chest to his son’s companies are attracting questions and criticism, but Steven Reed isn’t the only person close to the St. Tammany Parish district attorney who got money from his campaign fund. So did a woman who describes herself as Walter Reed’s former fiancee — and who says neither she nor her son did any work to justify payments totaling $7,500.
Claire Bradley, who was Claire Ursin before her divorce, is a 57-year-old mother who works as a flight attendant. She says she dated Reed for about 10 years and was briefly engaged to him in 2011.
Reed has been district attorney of the 22nd Judicial District, covering St. Tammany and Washington parishes, since 1984.
Reed’s campaign finance records show two checks written to Claire Bradley in 2008, one for $2,000 and the other for $2,500. The records list “event supervision” as the service she rendered. Records also show Claire Ursin was paid $2,500 in June 2011 for “set up for fundraising event.” Kyle Ursin, her son, got a check for $500 in May 2011 for work described as “labor — fundraising event” in the finance records.
Bradley acknowledges that she and her son took the money, despite misgivings. The checks were Reed’s way to cover her living expenses while she was taking time off from work, she said. “I had to pay rent and feed my kid,” she said.
But Bradley said the reasons given for the payments are bogus.
“Money was given to me, and I did absolutely nothing ... neither did my son,” she said. Instead, she said, Reed was paying her to make up for paychecks she missed when she took trips with him, including a long Alaskan cruise.
“He walked into my bathroom the day before the cruise with an official check” from the campaign, she said. She said she asked what the payment of $2,500 was for.
Reed’s reply, according to Bradley, was that the money was for work she supposedly did for an upcoming fundraiser. “If anyone asks, you worked. You called people to come to the party,” she said he told her.
She said she objected, saying she had done no such thing.
She said he replied, “Yes, you did.”
She said she asked Reed if what he was doing was legal, and he replied, “Yeah, I can do anything I want. You worked for the party.”
Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, said officeholders are not allowed to spend campaign money for their personal use or someone else’s personal use unrelated to holding office or running an election campaign.
Figuring out whether that happened here “would be a matter for the Board of Ethics to investigate, and there are civil penalties for violating the law,” Scott said in an email.
“A separate question would be whether the true purpose of an expenditure was reported on the official campaign finance form and whether the reporting was false or even fraud. That would be a matter for a district attorney or the Louisiana attorney general to investigate, and there are criminal penalties for violating that part of the law.”
Reed’s campaign treasurer, Ronald Garrity, did not return numerous phone messages left by The New Orleans Advocate.
Reed declined a request for an interview but issued a statement Friday saying that the payments to Bradley and her son were for legitimate work.
The only payments he addressed specifically were a $2,500 check he made out to her in 2011 and a $500 check to her son around the same time. Claire Bradley’s fee, he said, was for acting as a “chaperone and liaison” to musician Christopher Cross, who was performing at Reed’s fundraiser. Her son earned $500 for helping to set up for the fundraiser and to stock supplies, according to Reed’s statement.
Bradley says otherwise. She maintains her son did no work for that money, and that Reed cut her the check to help pay for groceries and to cover the cost of a sitter for her son while she took a trip with Reed. She acknowledged spending a couple of hours with Cross. That was the only thing she ever did for a Reed campaign function, she said, and it wasn’t really work, but a “made-up thing.”
Reed portrayed Bradley as an unreliable source of information.
“Unfortunately, after the Christopher Cross fundraiser, Ms. Ursin’s actions became aggressive and irrational and she was arrested several months after the event and ultimately pled guilty to criminal charges,” Reed’s statement said. “She was also ordered to stay away from my ex-wife and children. She has continued over these last several years to exhibit bizarre behavior.”
Sheriff’s Office records show that approximately two weeks after the 2011 fundraiser, Bradley “keyed” a Jaguar belonging to Shawn Reed, the district attorney’s ex-wife, in a Walgreens parking lot. The act was caught on videotape by a surveillance camera, and Shawn Reed said she was “80 percent” certain the perpetrator was Bradley.
Bradley dropped off a check for $2,300 to pay for the damage at Shawn Reed’s office the next day, along with a note of apology, according to the police report. When confronted by deputies a day after that, she immediately confessed what she had done, the report said.
Bradley told The New Orleans Advocate that she was upset with Walter Reed at the time and believed that damaging his ex-wife’s car would put a permanent end to her own relationship with him.
Two months after the incident, Bradley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple criminal damage to property. She was ordered to pay restitution and to perform eight hours of community service. She was also directed to “seek psychiatric evaluation” and to stay away from Shawn Reed as well as Walter and Shawn Reed’s two children.
Because of the conflict, the case was prosecuted by the state attorney general’s office.
Shawn Reed filed for divorce from Walter Reed in 2004, seven years before the incident with Bradley. The court record of that case remains sealed.
In his prepared statement, Reed did not address the two payments totaling $4,500 that his campaign made to Bradley in 2008.
Bradley believes that’s around the time she took the Alaska cruise with Reed. The only fundraising event she recalls from that time period was a golf tournament that she said she was not involved with in any way.
“It’s a lie,” she said of the way the Reed campaign described the payment. “I’m willing to say it.”
She also claims to have witnessed other questionable uses of campaign finance money by Reed, who, with a public salary of roughly $200,000, is one of the two highest-paid district attorneys in Louisiana.
She said Reed would go to Martin Wine Cellar in New Orleans and buy what she described as “good stuff” and pay for it with campaign funds, purportedly so that it could be served at campaign events. However, she said, Reed kept those bottles at home for his own use and served donated liquor at the events instead.
Reed’s campaign finance reports do not cite any in-kind donations, where such contributions would normally be listed. But there are several expenditures at Martin Wine Cellar: $1,592.72 in 2013 and three charges totaling $6,200 in 2012.
Every Thanksgiving, Bradley said, Reed would hold a large dinner for family and friends at a restaurant and pay for it with campaign money, even though it wasn’t election-related. While Bradley did not attend those dinners, she said Reed invited her parents one year and paid for their dinner.
As for her own relationship with Reed, she said it was punctuated by frequent breakups and ended for good in late 2012. She said Reed could be generous — for example, paying for yard work at her parents’ home and providing her son with a job in his six-week summer program.
She said her son was making $15 an hour versus $10 for other participants, a disparity that made her son uncomfortable.
When Kyle Ursin asked about it, she said, Reed told the teenager, “Your mama is dating the DA. Don’t you want to be paid $15? Just keep your damn mouth shut.”
Reed did not respond to a question about Kyle Ursin’s pay rate.