Federal prosecutors have added another wire fraud charge to their multicount corruption case against former 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed.
The new charge, part of a superseding indictment filed Thursday, focuses on a $25,000 donation Reed made from his campaign fund to Faith Tabernacle Church, a Pentecostal church in Franklinton. Prosecutors say the money was actually a payment for a referral of private civil work that the church’s pastor, Jerry Wayne Cox, steered to Reed.
Cox pleaded guilty earlier this month to an unrelated charge of structuring financial transactions to avoid a federal reporting requirement.
Cox’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, said at that time that Cox was cooperating with federal authorities. He had no comment on Thursday’s development.
Reed’s attorney, Richard Simmons, has said the government is scrutinizing everyone who had a relationship with Reed in hopes of strengthening the case against the former district attorney.
Simmons said Thursday that the donation made in 2013 was solely a charitable contribution to the church’s building fund. State law allows candidates to use campaign funds for that purpose, he said, calling it “perfectly legal.”
He also said the 2013 donation is completely unrelated to the 2011 financial offenses to which Cox has pleaded guilty, which does not contradict any of the government’s assertions to date in either case.
Faith Tabernacle, in a remote rural area of Washington Parish, is a lavishly appointed building that Cox has pastored for many years.
Reed, who chose not to run for re-election last year as the federal probe targeting him became public, was indicted on 18 counts in April, with much of the case hinging on his use of campaign money to cover what the government has characterized as personal spending.
Simmons recently attempted to get those charges dismissed, arguing, in part, that the case was an overreach by the federal government because the state regulates campaign spending. But U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon denied the motion.
Reed faces charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements on tax returns. He’s accused of conspiring with his son, Steven Reed, to divert campaign money to personal use, some of it to benefit the younger Reed. The government case also takes aim at a deal with St. Tammany Parish Hospital, in which prosecutors say Reed took hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments that were meant for the District Attorney’s Office.
The new indictment brings the number of charges against Reed to 19. Perhaps more importantly, it will allow prosecutors to enlarge upon an unflattering narrative they’ve already laid out — that despite being the highest-paid district attorney in Louisiana, Reed constantly was looking for ways to enrich himself further. He often sought out civil work on the side, in some cases recusing his office from criminal cases in order to do so, a practice some observers have criticized.
While district attorneys are allowed to have a private legal practice, another district attorney got into trouble with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel for choosing private, for-profit work over office duties as district attorney.
Reed has indicated on disclosure forms to the state Ethics Board that his private legal work brings in more than $100,000 per year.
The original indictment issued in April mentioned two other instances of Reed using campaign money to help get legal work. Both were dinners he hosted out of state for Pentecostal preachers for the purpose of recruiting them to refer private civil work to him and the law firm with which he was affiliated, according to the indictment. He spent $2,635 on one dinner and about $4,700 on another.
Reed submitted the first expense to the law firm for reimbursement, with a notation that the firm had “already gotten one good personal injury case from this dinner, which I will tell you about later.”
The indictment does not name the firm, but Reed was “of counsel” with McCranie Sistrunk law firm, which represented the families of two women who were killed by an 18-wheeler, a case Reed bragged about to a Pentecostal church publication.
While it’s not a crime to pay referrals, it does violate state rules governing lawyers and could, thus, serve to further tarnish Reed at trial.
Reed is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 11. Cox is slated to be sentenced on Jan. 28 and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.