Walter Reed, for decades the top law enforcement official in St. Tammany and Washington parishes, found himself in an unfamiliar area of the courtroom on Monday: the defense table.
Reed stood before a judge, quietly saying, “Not guilty, your honor,” as he was arraigned in federal court in New Orleans on 18 charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements on his income taxes.
His attorney, Rick Simmons, waived the reading of the lengthy indictment.
Reed, 68, clad in a dark blue suit and red tie, leaned back slightly, his hands clasped in front of him as U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles set a $25,000 personal unsecured bond — essentially leaving the former district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District free on his own recognizance.
Reed must restrict his travel to within the continental United States before his trial in U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon’s court, set for July 6. That date is likely to be pushed back, however.
His 43-year-old son, Steven Reed, also entered a not guilty plea to the two counts he faces of conspiracy and wire fraud. He stood next to his father as he repeated the same phrase, “Not guilty, your honor.” His bond was identical to that of the elder Reed.
The courtroom was packed to capacity for the arraignment, with bailiffs turning people away at one point. The two defendants sat in the back row before Knowles took the bench.
Members of Louisiana United International, a civil rights group, and Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, a watchdog organization, made up a large portion of the crowd in the courtroom, after having held a rally earlier in the day in front of the courthouse.
Belinda Parker Brown, president of LUI, accused Reed while district attorney of bullying innocent people into pleading guilty, among other accusations — allegations that did not make their way into the indictment.
Reed, who has been largely invisible on the north shore for the past year, strode confidently into the front door of the courthouse about 25 minutes before the 2 p.m. scheduled start time of his arraignment.
He and Simmons had walked down Poydras Street, where a phalanx of journalists was waiting. Reed, who was smiling slightly, saluted at one point and shook hands with a reporter, but otherwise he did not break stride or answer questions.
After the arraignment, both Reeds left from the back of the courthouse, while Simmons made a brief statement, stressing that the case against his client is not about civil rights.
“It’s about campaign funds, an IRS case. We intend to fight the battle in the courtroom, not out on the steps,” said Simmons, who has repeatedly said that his client is not accused of selling his office.
Reporters called out questions, asking if there is a deal in the offing or if Reed plans to fight all the way through.
“We got a trial date, and we hope the public would understand, we are going to contest the charges,” Simmons said, adding that he believes Reed’s son also plans to go to trial.
Many of the charges that Reed faces stem from his liberal use of his campaign funds, The bulk of the 30-page indictment lays out an alleged conspiracy between father and son to funnel campaign donations from Reed’s large war chest to his son. In part, the indictment says, that was done to satisfy a $60,000 loan taken out by the two Reeds so that the younger Reed could buy a since-closed Covington bar.
But while the case does deal extensively with alleged misuse of campaign funds, the federal government has also accused him of fraud for allegedly helping himself to money from a legal contract with St. Tammany Parish Hospital that should have gone to the District Attorney’s Office.
Reed was a formidable political force on the north shore until last year, when a raft of critical media stories and a federal probe began to surface.
A former New Orleans police officer, Reed unseated an incumbent district attorney in 1984 to begin a 30-year lock on the top prosecutor’s job in St. Tammany and Washington parishes. He drew opposition only once, from former U.S. Attorney John Volz, whom he defeated in 1996.
In July, Reed announced he would not seek a sixth term, chalking the decision up to negative media coverage and never acknowledging he was in the sights of federal authorities.
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