Testimony in Walter and Steven Reed’s public corruption trial Tuesday sometimes seemed like a word problem from a math textbook, as lawyers peppered witnesses with questions about head counts at a political fundraiser held at the Castine Center and the formula used to determine how much booze was needed to quench the thirst of donors.
The point of the questioning wasn’t party planning but whether the $29,400 check that Walter Reed paid his son’s company from his campaign fund for services at that event was a legitimate expenditure.
An alleged conspiracy to funnel money from the campaign fund to the younger Reed is at the heart of the 19-count federal indictment of the former longtime district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District on the north shore.
The two men also are accused of money laundering in connection with the fundraiser by allegedly requiring two vendors to direct $5,000 each to two companies controlled by Steven Reed: Globop Inc. and Liquid Bread LLC.
The two Reeds have offered differing accounts of the nearly $30,000 paid for the fundraiser at the Castine Center that featured the band America. Walter Reed has said his son provided alcohol for the event, while Steven Reed claimed he provided only setups and bar service.
But testimony Tuesday showed that the event was awash in donated alcohol — enough, according to one witness, to adequately meet the needs of the anticipated crowd.
Benjamin Gersch, who worked in the special events division of Glazer’s Distributors, testified that his company donated alcohol for several Reed fundraisers, including the one in question. He said Glazer’s provided 22 1/2 cases of wine and 11 cases of spirits to the campaign — although Reed organizers had asked for 14.
Gersch said his formula is to multiply the number of people times the number of hours times the number of anticipated drinks consumed per hour. For a Mardi Gras event, that would be 1 1/2 drinks per hour, but for a political fundraiser, he figures one drink per hour.
“I’ve never run out of booze at an event based on this formula,” he said.
But that wasn’t the only free liquor being served up at the Castine Center. Another witness, Adam Acquistapace, of Acquistapace Grocery Store in Covington, also was asked to provide some Jack Daniels for the event — seven or nine cases, he said.
He told the court that he knows some was left over after the event because he had donated a special-label version that Republic, a wholesaler, had given him for a good price. The wholesaler contacted him to ask if he had sold any of it because someone had tried to return unused bottles for a cash refund.
He hadn’t sold any, but he had donated it, Acquistapace said.
Steven Reed’s role in the fundraiser was the focus of much of the afternoon’s testimony, with Kathy Foley, the manager of Pelican Park, testifying at length about the contract with the Reed campaign to use the park’s Castine Center for the party. The questions put to Foley dealt in large part with just how many people attended the event.
Steven Reed’s payment was based on a $12 per head charge and a count of 2,500.
But Foley was adamant that the number was lower, testifying that attendance over 2,000 would have set a number of steps in motion, including the need to consult with the fire marshal and to increase access to parking at the site.
She also testified that neither Steven Reed nor his company’s name appeared in any of the detailed documents that the Castine Center keeps for events.
Another payment to Steven Reed, $14,300 for a public service announcement that he videotaped for the District Attorney’s Office that his father ran, was the subject of testimony Tuesday morning, with the prosecution calling an expert witness on video production, Jason Villemarette, of Fire on the Bayou.
The jury watched the brief video, which showed Walter Reed talking to a camera and a brief voice-over, and heard Villemarette’s critique, which noted the lack of makeup for Reed and the fact that he didn’t use a teleprompter. He said the tinny sound quality made it clear that Steven Reed had not used professional microphones.
Villemarette also faulted the voice-over, which he said was clearly not the work of a professional voice actor. That was backed up by another witness, Sue-Dee Lazzerini, who described herself as a neighbor and friend of Steven Reed and who said she worked about an hour with him on the voice-over.
The prosecution asked if she had been paid or offered any money by the younger Reed, and she said she had not.
“Would you have liked to be paid?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marquest Meeks asked.
“Yes,” she said.
Villemarette pegged the value of the video at $1,500 to $2,000, saying the $14,300 paid to Steven Reed “seems a little high.”
Glenn Burns, who is representing Steven Reed, quizzed Villemarette on cross-examination about how much he was getting paid as an expert witness and asked if he wouldn’t benefit from the publicity of having his “name in the newspaper.”
Villemarette said he didn’t need the publicity and considered his involvement in the trial a civic duty.
After the sometimes harsh rhetoric of the opening statements on Monday, the first day of the trial, Tuesday settled down into a pattern of dry testimony, including six witnesses from banks who testified about how funds are transferred from one institution to another when a deposit is made.
But there were some fireworks when the jury was absent. Reed’s attorney, Richard Simmons, asked U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon to sever the charges concerning campaign finance spending from those involving Reed’s work for St. Tammany Parish Hospital — the fourth time he has asked the judge to do so.
But this time, Simmons alluded to evidence that the prosecution wants to use that shows Reed talked about a Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends to three different people on what Simmons described Tuesday as a “social media site.”
The government has argued that it wants to show he repeated that characterization of the dinner — which he charged to his campaign fund — as an event for family and friends three times.
But Simmons said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg’s opening statement accused Reed of womanizing and that makes clear the real reason he wants to introduce the evidence.
The statements were made on Sugardaddie.com, but it’s not clear whether Fallon is going to allow the records to be introduced. The records were sealed after WWL-TV reporter Katie Moore asked attorneys about them.
Simmons said Ginsberg’s opening statement, which also accused Walter Reed of greed, was a character assassination.
The judge did not give an answer but brought the jury back in and resumed testimony.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.