Jerry Wayne Cox, a Pentecostal preacher with close ties to former 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a single federal count of structuring financial transactions in an effort to evade federal reporting requirements.
Cox, 72, whose case has been allotted to U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown, entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Joseph Wilkinson. Wilkinson set his bail at $50,000.
Cox was charged earlier this month in a bill of information, almost always a sign that a defendant is cooperating with authorities and plans to make a plea deal.
Cox’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, confirmed Thursday that Cox intends to plead guilty.
Dressed in a navy blue suit and accompanied by his wife and son-in-law, Cox was subdued as he entered his plea.
His demeanor was a marked contrast to his energetic and jovial presence in the pulpit Tuesday night at Faith Tabernacle Church in Franklinton, where he asked his congregation several times to pray for him without specifying a reason.
The bill of information charging Cox makes no mention of Reed, and the former DA’s attorney, Rick Simmons, has said there is no connection between Reed and the questionable financial transactions the bill alleges.
Castaing agreed with that assessment. “The offense to which he is pleading guilty has nothing to do with Walter Reed or anything Walter Reed may have done or not done,” Castaing said. He added: “He fully intends to tell the truth because that is his Christian duty.”
Reed was indicted by a federal grand jury in April on multiple counts, including filing false statements on tax returns. He’s fighting those charges and is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Cox, by contrast, faces only one count. The bill of information says he deposited a $70,000 check into a bank account in September 2011, withdrawing most of it over a three-week period in amounts between $7,650 and $9,500 to evade detection. Financial institutions are required to report transactions involving more than $10,000 to the IRS.
The government alleges that Cox’s withdrawals were part of a pattern of illegal activity that involved more than $100,000 over the course of a year.
The law against structuring is intended to make it more difficult for those involved in criminal activity to avoid detection by the government.
Simmons has noted that investigators are looking at everyone around Reed, and he suspects that Cox came into their sights because of his close relationship with the district attorney.
In an interview with a Pentecostal magazine, Reed described Cox as one of his best friends. He also mentioned Cox in a 2012 letter he sent to Pentecostal preachers across the country touting his work as a personal-injury attorney.
The magazine article also mentioned that Reed had won a $2.4 million settlement for the survivors of two women killed in a crash with an 18-wheeler. In that case, Reed recused his office from prosecuting the truck driver so he could take up the civil lawsuit.
Reed wrote a $25,000 check from his campaign fund to Faith Tabernacle for its building fund, records show.
Reed and Cox also were both named as defendants in a lawsuit by an Arkansas man who alleged that the former district attorney had him jailed indefinitely because he spoke with the FBI about the activities of Reed and Cox.
Roger Magee’s lawsuit, filed last year, says he was kept in the Washington Parish lockup for nearly 100 days on what was described as a “DA hold,’’ after his arrest on failure to pay child support.
But on Thursday, the same day Cox appeared for his arraignment, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle agreed to dismiss Reed from the lawsuit. He agreed with Simmons that the plaintiff had failed to state a valid claim for action against Reed.
It’s not clear whether any of the information Magee claims to have provided to the FBI figures in charges against either man.
The suit alleges that Cox confronted Magee about talking to the feds, warning that if Magee came to Louisiana, “Reed will handle you!”
Magee’s attorney, Phil Kaplan, said his client will appeal Lemelle’s ruling.
Magee’s lawsuit also targets Cox, Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country” Seal and a number of Seal’s deputies. To date, Reed is the only one to have the claims against him dismissed.
Lemelle’s ruling did not take a position on whether any of Magee’s claims were true.
Staff writer Gordon Russell contributed to this article. Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.