Jerry Wayne Cox, a Pentecostal preacher who testified against former north shore District Attorney Walter Reed, will not serve any jail time for an unrelated federal charge he has been facing.
Cox was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown in an unusual sealed proceeding.
The 72-year-old pastor of Faith Tabernacle in Franklinton received five years of probation, according to his lawyer, Eddie Castaing, who called the sentence a just one, based on the facts and the help Cox provided federal prosecutors in the Reed case.
When Cox emerged from the closed courtroom, a reporter asked if he faced jail time. Smiling, the minister said, “I’m a free bird.”
Initially, Brown sealed the courtroom at the request of the government, but she reopened it after granting the motion to seal in part. She then closed it again just before handing down the sentence. She did not explain the reason why the courtroom was closed either time.
Cox faced a maximum of 10 years in prison after his guilty plea to structuring financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements, a charge that was not related to the Reed case. He pleaded guilty in October under a plea deal that required him to cooperate against Reed.
The government said Cox engaged in a pattern of financial withdrawals — or had others do so for him — in amounts under $10,000 to avoid triggering the requirement that financial institutions must report transactions over that figure. Prosecutors said the transactions were structured by Cox as part of a pattern of illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period, specifically from Sept. 20, 2011, to Aug. 4, 2012.
Castaing argued Thursday that it would serve no public good for Cox to spend any time in jail. He cited the pastor’s age and health, the health of his wife and the needs of his congregation as well as what he called a “sterling record.”
While Cox admitted breaking the law, Castaing said the money in question was not illegally obtained.
“He has dedicated his life to the church and the people in the church, and ironically, the money was for the church,” Castaing said.
Castaing also stressed Cox’s role in the prosecution of Reed, the former district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes, who was convicted last month on 18 counts, including one wire fraud count that arose from money the former politician gave to Faith Tabernacle.
Cox cooperated with federal authorities from the minute two federal agents showed up at his Franklinton house in 2015, his lawyer said, noting that they questioned him for more than six hours. He testified in the Reed case that the former DA gave the church a $25,000 donation because Cox had referred lucrative personal-injury cases to him.
Brown told Cox she had a received a large number of letters concerning his case from his family, friends, church members and other pastors.
While the number of letters can’t weigh heavily as a factor in sentencing, she said, the writers portrayed Cox as a man who has given his life to service since the eighth grade. “That does not go unrecognized,” she said, noting that people look up to Cox.
The defendant made a brief statement, saying he had embarrassed himself in front of his family, congregation and fellow preachers. “All I can do is beg for mercy,” he said.
Reed is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 15.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.