'An Olympic-sized leap': Walter Reed calls for conviction to be thrown out

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Former St. Tammany/Washington parish District Attorney Walter Reed leaves federal court in New Orleans after being arraigned on an 18 count indictment Monday, May 4, 2015.

Walter Reed’s defense team called two of his closest aides from the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office to the stand Thursday, hoping to cast doubt on government claims that Reed funneled money from his campaign fund to his son Steven and on other arguments in the government’s 19-count cases against the former district attorney.

Bart Pepperman, who headed the office’s diversion program and helped organize fundraisers for Reed, testified about some of the campaign events that have come under the microscope, like a 2011 fundraiser featuring the singer Christopher Cross and one in 2012 headlined by the band America.

At issue was whether Steven Reed provided alcohol for the events, which would ostensibly help explain why he was paid so much for them by his father’s political campaign.

Steven Reed’s attorney, Glenn Burns, has asked several witnesses about the possibility that alcohol for the events could have come from his client. Steven Reed was paid $29,400 by his father’s campaign for services at the America event, for instance.

Pepperman testified that he and Jerry Reed, a second cousin of the former district attorney who has testified as well, had speculated that the alcohol for the events “might have come from the bar,” a reference to Tugendhaft’s Tavern, a bar that was owned by Steven Reed..

But under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marquest Meeks, Pepperman acknowledged that he could not be sure Steven Reed provided alcohol.

“You’re the liquor guy, right?” Meeks asked.

The mostly low-key presentation by the defense was in contrast to an intense morning of cross-examination by the government, starting with Walter Reed’s ex-wife, Shawn Reed, who was the final witness called by the defense the day before.

Her testimony Wednesday centered on her then-husband’s relationship with St. Tammany Parish Hospital, the other leg in the government’s 19-count indictment against Walter Reed. Prosecutors claim he personally took money from the hospital that should have gone to the District Attorney’s Office, while he maintains that the hospital’s board knew he was working as a private attorney.

Shawn Reed testified that she worked with Harry Pastuszek, another Walter Reed insider, on drafting a resolution for an October 1996 hospital board meeting that would have confirmed Walter Reed’s personal appointment as the board’s legal counsel.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg questioned her aggressively about payments her husband was taking for the hospital work. He started by asking, “When did he start pocketing the money?”

He asked if she was aware that her husband attended the board meeting in question and that the resolution was never discussed or voted upon.

She repeatedly tried to say she never saw any board minutes. “I was assured Paul Cordes had handled it,” she said, referring to the board’s chairman. But Ginsberg kept cutting her off and demanding that she answer his questions directly.

The prosecutor also touched on Shawn Reed’s complaints during previous testimony that life as the spouse of a politician was spent in a fish bowl, with constituents coming up to talk at the grocery story, at movies and even on a plane when the Reed family was going on a trip.

She agreed that she had testified to that effect and that her husband essentially ran for office every day of the year.

But when Ginsberg asked if Walter Reed had tried to claim grocery purchases, movies or plane tickets as campaign expenses, she said no.

He also asked if their family ate at fast-food restaurants. She replied that she should have bought stock in McDonald’s.

Asked if Reed ever claimed those dinners as campaign expenses, she said he did not.

The government also took aim at the Reeds’ relationship with Pastor Jerry Wayne Cox, a Pentecostal preacher who testified Monday that he had sought a donation from Walter Reed in return for referring clients to his private law firm.

Shawn Reed, who also is an attorney, acknowledged that she, too, had been given referrals by Cox, although she said he gave her “the hardest cases.” Ginsberg asked several times if she had made a lot of money off those cases and if Walter Reed had.

She agreed that she had made money. But when Ginsberg asked if she had handed Cox an envelope with $5,000 in cash, she said she did not recall doing so. She said she gave Cox a $1,000 check after a church revival meeting. “I don’t recall anything about $5,000 in cash,” she said.

The prosecution also hammered at Pepperman and another former Walter Reed aide, Houston “Hammy” Gascon, on cross-examination, asking if they were in Reed’s inner circle and questioning them about their involvement in programs set up by Reed that offered certain employees particularly cushy benefits.

Neither of Reed’s former staffers is on trial over those benefits, but the government argues that Reed should have reported his own benefits package as income. A District Attorney’s Office memo introduced into evidence said participants should keep the program confidential.

Meeks also questioned Pepperman about $2,500 checks he received from the Reed campaign after fundraisers in 2011 and 2012. Pepperman characterized the checks as gifts, but the prosecution pointed out they were listed as labor on Reed’s campaign finance reports.

“That’s not right, is it, Mr. Pepperman?” Meeks asked.

Pepperman said that was up to the CPA who prepared the report. But he acknowledged that candidates are ultimately responsible for what is reported.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.