Walter Reed, who relished his reputation as an unforgiving prosecutor during three decades as district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes, caught a break Wednesday when it was his turn to face the music.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon sentenced Reed to four years in prison -- less than half the range called for in federal sentencing guidelines -- ending a fall from grace that began in 2014 with a barrage of news reports that raised questions about Reed's ethics.
The sentencing guidelines, which judges need not follow, called for a range of nine to 11 1/2 years for Reed. But in meting out a much more lenient sentence, Fallon said that the facts of the case -- much of which centered on Reed's misuse of campaign money --- were "unusual." That led him to scrutinize the guidelines more carefully, he said.
"I don't think I've seen a fraud case like this," Fallon said, noting that Reed didn't use money to buy a fancy house, expensive cars or lavish vacations. Instead, the judge mused, Reed bought flowers for family members and lunches for people who were probably going to vote for him anyway. He gave campaign money to a preacher --- a donation that the jury decided was a reward for private legal referrals. But, Fallon noted, that money was used to build a gym for the church.
Reed, 70, also was convicted for pocketing $30,000 in payment for legal advice to St. Tammany Parish Hospital, money that was supposed to go to the District Attorney's Office.
While Reed's lawyer, Richard Simmons, had asked the judge for a downward departure from the guidelines, the sentence clearly came as a surprise to the defendant. In a brief statement before the judge announced the sentence, Reed said: "I know you are about to impose a life sentence on me, but today is a good day. You gave my son probation."
Steven Reed, 45, was found guilty on three counts, compared to Reed's 18. Guidelines called for him to serve between 18 and 24 months in prison, but Fallon opted for five years of probation.
The judge's decision followed a morning of intense arguing over the presentence report prepared by federal probation officers, which called for a number of enhancements in the sentence.
Though he would later impose a relatively mild sentence, Fallon agreed with most of prosecutors' arguments. He added points because Reed was the decision-maker in a conspiracy; because he misrepresented himself in raising money ostensibly for campaign reasons; because he had a myriad of victims in his many campaign donors; and because he was not only a lawyer but the parish's top law enforcement officer and an elected official.
Fallon also said the Reed had obstructed justice by asking an underling, Leo Hemelt, to sign a false statement about this work for the hospital.
"You've covered all this in great detail," Fallon said. "I understand your objections and have researched them -- over 60 of them," he said, adding that many of the objections were "reiterations of the defense theory at trial."
Reed will remain free on bond pending appeal, a decision that some legal observers viewed as a signal that Fallon believes the former prosecutor has a shot winning an appeal of his case. Last May, a jury found him guilty of 18 of 19 corruption counts that included conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements on his tax returns.
Even as Reed's attorney, Richard Simmons, sought leniency, the government was adamant that Reed, a former police officer and influential public official, should face harsher consequences than the guidelines recommended, saying that he stole from his office and from his political supporters.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg hammered those same themes in the courtroom Wednesday, saying that law enforcement only works because trust is placed in those who hold office. "He mortgaged his constituents... for self-indulgence and greed. He spent the last 20 years perpetuating fraud to benefit himself."
Neither Reed nor his lawyer acknowledged any wrongdoing or showed any contrition. Reed thanked Fallon for allowing him to stay out of jail pending the appeal of his convictions, and asserted it was the first time in 20 years on the bench that the judge had done so.
Reed and Simmons both said that they are looking forward to appealing the case. Reed called the prosecution overreach -- something his lawyer has said repeatedly -- and said that his use of campaign money is typical of many politicians.
"I talked to two sheriffs, and they said, 'You've got to get this resolved or they can send all of us to prison,'" he said.
Fallon also said he had to consider the character of the defendant in deciding his punishments, mentioning his age, his lack of prior offenses and the fact that he is out of office and has lost his law license. None of that excuses his actions, the judge said.
"He should have known better," Fallon said. "That's why there's some incarceration."
But, he said, the former district attorney did some good in the community.
While some legal observers had predicted a stiff sentence for Reed, based on the guidelines, defense attorney Tim Meche called it accurately, predicting five years or less. He compared the situation to that of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who got 10 years, and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, who got four. All achieved a measure of notoriety, Meche said, but that shouldn't translate into a lengthy sentence.
"It's based on the conduct and the amount of money that was allegedly stolen over a 30-year career -- I think they said like a half-million dollars," he said. "How many politicians do you know who have been in office that long that haven't stolen four times that much! In Louisiana?"
Sentencing guidelines are "tremendously imperfect," he said, and judges are in a better position than anyone else to decide an appropriate sentence.
"Fallon knows the lay of the land," Meche said. "He saw it for what it was."
Reed will have to pay restitution of $572,067 to the district attorneys office as well as taxes that he owes. And he is facing a substantial forfeiture of about $600,000. But Fallon agreed that he will not have to pay the forfeiture until he has exhausted his appeals.