Federal prosecutors in the case against former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed want to use records from an online dating site as evidence in his public corruption trial scheduled to begin next month.
The documents in question are connected to a user account named Mark2200 on Sugardaddie.com, according to a motion filed in federal court. The site purports to connect wealthy men with younger women.
The New Orleans Advocate obtained printed copies of messages sent by the account; in some of them, the user identifies himself as Reed.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office asked U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon to allow use of the information from the website in a motion filed in federal court last week.
The filing noted that Reed’s camp has indicated it will not confirm the authenticity of the records, which were obtained by prosecutors through a federal search warrant. Prosecutors are asking the judge to rule on their admissibility as business records.
Neither Rick Simmons, an attorney for Reed, nor Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg would comment on the case. Simmons said he cannot comment on matters under seal.
The motion was publicly available when it was filed Friday, but shortly after a reporter questioned lawyers about it in court Tuesday morning, Fallon sealed it.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday.
Sugardaddie.com describes itself on its website as a service for “slightly older gentlemen of wealth, willing to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship with younger attractive ladies for the purpose of showing them a more affluent lifestyle.”
The connection between the dating site and the 19-count case against the former longtime district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes is not spelled out in the motion. But former federal prosecutor Chick Foret said the government obviously believes that the website’s extensive records — more than 100 pages according to the motion — are “hurtful” to the defendant.
“Whatever is on there, the government thinks it’s significant,” Foret said.
Much of the case against Reed deals with alleged misuse of campaign money, some of which prosecutors claim he diverted illegally to his son, Steven Reed, who is a co-defendant in the case.
Documents obtained by The Advocate suggest prosecutors might intend to use information from Sugardaddie.com to show that a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Reed at the upscale Dakota restaurant in Covington was not a campaign event but a private soiree paid for by campaign donations.
Mark2200 mentioned the dinner in online chats in November 2011 with three different women, describing it to each as an event for family and friends.
“Have a private room reserved tomorrow at my favorite restaurant for about 25 and so I won’t have to worry about cooking and dirty dishes,” one message said.
“Each year I reserve a private room at Dakota’s Restaurant in Covington for about 25 close friends and family,” another post said.
Count 4 of the federal indictment, for alleged wire fraud, concerns a $1,885 check written on Reed’s campaign account to pay for Thanksgiving dinner for Reed and about 10 other family members, as well as a $500 gift card for future personal use.
Defense lawyer Tim Meche, a frequent critic of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the decision by prosecutors to try to introduce material from the website might also be an attempt to sour Reed’s image among jurors. He called the motion “below the belt behavior.”
Dating sites are legal, Meche said, but the material could still raise eyebrows and affect people’s view of Reed.
In the copies of Mark2200 postings obtained by The Advocate, the user describes himself as “rich” and “politically powerful” and offers to “enhance” the lives of prospective dates.
Meche also said filing such a motion as the trial draws near, rather than settling the question in the judge’s chambers, could be an attempt to get the material out in public.
“When the government does that, it makes me question whether or not they have a good case,” he said. “If you really have a good case, go to court and prove it.”
Reed’s trial is slated to begin April 18.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.