Walter Reed’s $25,000 donation to a Franklinton church is at the heart of the most recent charge lodged against the former North Shore district attorney by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but in a recent court filing, Reed’s attorney argues that such donations are legal and were routine for Reed.
Lawyer Rick Simmons filed a motion last week to dismiss the new wire fraud charge, which appeared in a superseding indictment filed by the government last month.
The defense continues to hammer the same basic argument: that elections are governed by state law and the case against Reed, which relies in large part on alleged misuse of campaign funds, is a federal overreach.
When it comes to Reed’s donation to Faith Tabernacle Church, Simmons said Wednesday, the government is not enforcing campaign laws but ignoring them.
The state’s campaign finance law “expressly allows a candidate to give campaign funds to nonprofit religious organizations, like Faith Tabernacle Church, with no limitation,’’ the motion to dismiss says.
The new charge against Reed seeks to allege a motive for the donation, Simmons said, alluding to claims by prosecutors that the money was really payment for a referral of private civil work by the church’s pastor.
However, the donation in question “didn’t go into the pocket of (the) Rev. (Jerry Wayne) Cox. It went to the church building fund,’’ Simmons said.
The new charge was made after Cox, the pastor of Faith Tabernacle, pleaded guilty in October to an unrelated charge of financial structuring. His attorney said at the time that his client was cooperating with authorities.
Reed, who was district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes for 30 years, was indicted in April on 18 counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements on tax returns. The superseding indictment brought the number of counts to 19.
In his motion, Simmons argues that state law allows candidates to give campaign funds to nonprofit religious organizations regardless of the reason, and it’s not within the federal government’s authority to say that such expenses constitute wire fraud.
Reed had earlier sought dismissal of all the campaign finance-related counts, but the court rejected that motion.
Simmons filed a motion last week asking the court to reconsider that decision. It said rejection of the dismissal motion “empowered” the federal government, which is “brazenly encroaching on the state’s right to regulate and enforce state campaign finance laws by charging defendant with violation of a federal law for a gift to a church that is not only legal ... but expressly permitted.’’
The new motion also echoes previous arguments by the defense that there was no victim in the alleged misuse of campaign funds. It says that donors to Reed were not victimized by his gift to the church. It was public knowledge that Reed regularly donated to religious institutions, a fact that he disclosed in reports on his spending, the motion says.
Many of Reed’s constituents attended the church, it says, and the money was used to build a gymnasium.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon will hear arguments on the motion to dismiss and several others on Dec. 3, including one to remove some language from the indictment and another to separate the counts dealing with campaign finance.
Simmons also filed new memoranda concerning those two motions, arguing in the first that the indictment contains language that is “intended solely to fuel public scorn and create the false public perception that Walter Reed defrauded the general public — which is not a crime with which Mr. Reed is charged.’’
The memorandum supporting the motion to sever the campaign finance charges says the government is trying to lump two unrelated sets of crimes into one “overly broad, generalized, catch-all scheme.’’
The judge also will consider an earlier motion to separate the case against Walter Reed from that of his son, Steven Reed, who is accused of conspiring with his father to divert campaign funds for the younger Reed’s financial benefit.
The trial is scheduled for April 18.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.