Assistant State Attorney General David Caldwell said Thursday that his office is taking an “active look” at claims that a former investigator with the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office engineered the wrongful arrest of a Covington restaurateur to help a landlord who was suing the man.
Sources familiar with the case said a grand jury will be convened in St. Tammany Parish next week to consider charges against Louis Dabdoub, who was chief investigator under former District Attorney Walter Reed, for the wrongful arrest of Ricky Cambre.
Dabdoub signed a sworn affidavit for Cambre’s arrest before 22nd Judicial District Judge August Hand in 2012, claiming that Cambre had admitted to his landlord that he had taken cooler parts and filled in a drain with cement at the rental property that had housed the Ground Pat’i restaurant.
But there is substantial evidence that contradicts the affidavit — including a sworn statement by the alleged victim, landlord Barbara Marullo. Marullo’s husband, Anthony, is an old friend of Dabdoub’s.
But in a deposition taken by Cambre’s attorneys, Barbara Marullo repeatedly denied ever telling anyone that her former tenant had admitted to anything.
And in a recording of her interview with investigators Dabdoub and Sam Gebbia, she does not mention a confession from Cambre. In fact, Barbara Marullo told the pair that she never even talked to Cambre, and her only contact was with his attorney. “He just denies all of it,” she told the investigators.
The District Attorney’s case file also contains a version of events that doesn’t match up with an admission of guilt by Cambre. It mentions a conversation that the investigators had with one of Cambre’s previous lawyers, Warren Montgomery, who said the property that was removed belonged to his client and that a plumber had advised Cambre to seal the drain.
Montgomery, who is now the district attorney, fired Gebbia shortly after taking office in January. Dabdoub left the office before Montgomery was sworn in.
The District Attorney’s Office dismissed the criminal case against Cambre in 2013, more than a year after Marullo’s attorney had notified Reed that the arrest warrant had factual errors. The office also paid a $40,000 settlement to Cambre.
Although Marullo won a judgment against Debob Foods, Cambre’s company, for lost rent, another portion of the lawsuit, which was filed against Cambre personally for the alleged theft and property damage, was dismissed with prejudice. That portion of the suit was filed after Cambre’s arrest.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said at the time that a civil settlement did not mean an end to potential criminal violations that should be investigated. He said Thursday that he forwarded the case to law enforcement agencies.
He called it a classic example of the “good old boy” network using the power and authority of the District Attorney’s Office to help a friend collect a debt.
Barbara Marullo’s husband, Anthony Marullo, has owned bars in the French Quarter and has known Dabdoub for decades.
Dabdoub, Gebbia, Reed and Marullo were in the New Orleans Police Department at the same time.
“An innocent man was prosecuted over two years,” Goyeneche said, pointing out that the case continued even after it was brought to the district attorney’s attention that the alleged victim’s account did not support the arrest.
He also noted that a police report by the investigators was dated June 17, 2014, and was signed by Ronnie Gracianette, then chief of trials. That was one day before the records were provided to Goyeneche through a public-records request — and about a year after the district attorney had dropped the case.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.