Patrick Hale DeJean, justice of the peace of the Jefferson Parish's 2nd Justice Court

A federal grand jury in New Orleans has handed up a slew of criminal charges against a Marrero small-claims court judge accused of jacking up defendants' wage garnishments and helping himself to the proceeds, among other misdeeds.

The charges against Patrick Hale DeJean, 38, come months after judicial misconduct investigators said they suspected he was using public money to feed a gambling habit.

DeJean faces 12 counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements to a bank in an indictment filed Friday. He had not been given an arraignment date as of Monday afternoon, according to court records.

The indictment alleges that as justice of the peace for the 2nd Justice Court of Jefferson Parish since 2008, DeJean ordered the employers of people in debt to send checks containing wage garnishments to his court, despite a state law calling for such money to be sent directly to those who are owed the money.

DeJean would also charge fees to litigants that were not authorized by law, the indictment says. It says he would deposit the money into court bank accounts for which he was authorized to sign off on transactions, then take some of the money for his own use and leave the balance to those who were actually owed.

The effect was that defendants' wages were garnished excessively, with DeJean reaping the benefits, the indictment says.

The indictment mentions a dozen garnishment checks issued between November 2012 and March 2014 totaling nearly $3,000, some of which came from government entities like the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, the city of Kenner and the publicly owned East Jefferson General Hospital.

Additionally, on three occasions between March 2012 and July 2013, DeJean is accused of lying to First Bank and Trust to borrow more than $37,000 and to secure a $15,000 line of credit. The indictment says DeJean misrepresented his authority to borrow money on behalf of his court and lied to the bank by saying that the funds in question would be used to implement new software as well as for short-term working capital for the court, rather than by him personally. 

Also, DeJean last year successfully asked the Jefferson Parish Council for $10,000 that the court was supposed to spend on office equipment and supplies. He later took most of the money out of his court's banking account by writing checks to himself that he cashed and used for private purposes, the indictment says.

The indictment identifies the council member to whom DeJean made the request for the money only as "Councilman A." But records show that councilman is Mark Spears, whose district includes the 2nd Justice Court offices.

The indictment doesn't say how DeJean spent the money he obtained. But in late August, the state Supreme Court suspended him from his duties after a commission in charge of probing misconduct allegations reported finding evidence that he had gambled money received by his court at multiple regional casinos.

The allegations weighed by the Supreme Court echoed some of those in an audit of DeJean's court that he unsuccessfully fought to keep out of public view. And documents filed with the Supreme Court indicated that those allegations had drawn the scrutiny of law enforcement authorities including the FBI.

DeJean did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. But he previously has denied wrongdoing, at one point blaming his troubles on enemies he said he has in Gretna's political establishment. 

The case against him has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon. 

DeJean's former constable, Antoine "Tony" Thomassie, also has been under authorities' scrutiny, though no criminal charges against him have been announced. Last year, Thomassie and his wife admitted they violated the state's nepotism laws when he hired her to process wage garnishments.

Thomassie is no longer in office, having lost his re-election bid in 2014. He is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in June on unrelated charges of drunk driving and failure to maintain control of a vehicle.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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