Former Lafayette DA’s longtime secretary sentenced to 18 months in bribery scheme involving DWI offenders; four others also sentenced _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Barna Haynes, former District Attorney Mike Harson's secretary, walks into the John M. Shaw Federal Building for her sentencing hearing in a bribery case involving the District Attorney's Office in Lafayette, La.

One of the men who paid bribes for light treatment by the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office was later convicted of raping a child. And in another case, a District Attorney’s Office employee pressured the victim of an attack to drop charges at the urging of a private investigator who paid some $55,000 in bribes over four years.

Then there were the DWI cases, scores of them speedily resolved and wiped from the public record in exchange for cash and gifts.

“Our entire justice system was arguably tainted by what they were doing,” federal prosecutor Luke Walker said Friday, as three former employees of the District Attorney’s Office and two others were sentenced for their roles in a bribery scandal that is widely thought to have sunk former District Attorney Mike Harson’s re-election chances last year. “This destroyed the DA’s Office, and they are still trying to rebuild it.”

Barna D. Haynes, 61, Harson’s longtime secretary and the wife of Lafayette City Prosecutor Gary Haynes, was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison, the stiffest sentence handed down Friday by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote.

Prosecutors said Barna Haynes was the key connection in the DA’s Office for the Lafayette private investigator accused of orchestrating the scheme, Robert Williamson.

Williamson, who marketed his investigation business as Secret Cajun Man Limited, pleaded guilty last month to charges of conspiracy, bribery and Social Security fraud as a jury was being selected for his trial.

He admitted to receiving at least $443,000 from 2008 to 2012 to set up the special plea deals for his clients, charging as much as $5,000 per case and spreading cash around the District Attorney’s Office.

Most of the bribes were used to secure special DWI pleas that allowed for charges to be quickly disposed of and expunged from the public court record, but prosecutors said bribes also were doled out to have felonies dismissed.

One man who paid for special treatment in three separate cases — two drug charges and a DWI — was later arrested and convicted of raping a juvenile, and Barna Haynes threatened one victim of an attack with criminal charges herself if she did not drop a complaint against one of Williamson’s clients, according to testimony Friday from FBI agent Doug Herman.

Those were among new revelations in the DWI bribery case that surfaced publicly during Friday’s sentencings.

Herman also said that in one of several telephone calls the FBI secretly monitored between Haynes and Williamson, she is heard telling him to start sending more cases her way so they could make some cash for the upcoming holidays.

“She said to Mr. Williamson, ‘Get ’em ready; we need some Christmas money,’ ” Herman said.

Under the recommended guidelines used for federal sentencing, Haynes faced from 30 months to 37 months in prison. But Foote said the 18-month prison term was appropriate considering Haynes’ age, lack of criminal history and poor health.

“I regret every decision I made during that time,” Haynes told the judge.

Two other former District Attorney’s Office employees were tagged in the federal investigation for lesser roles.

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Former Assistant District Attorney Greg Williams, 46, was sentenced Friday to two years’ probation with six months of home confinement.

His former secretary, Denease Curry, 49, received two years’ probation with 200 hours of community service.

Williams accepted $500 and a series of gifts — an autographed New Orleans Saints hat, bicycles for himself and his family members, and clothing — for overseeing plea deals for Williamson. Curry made about $1,600 working with Haynes to help coordinate the special pleas.

Williams and Curry both said they acted at the behest of Haynes, who prosecutors said took $55,000 in bribes from Williamson at a rate of $500 a case.

Two former employees of the Acadiana Outreach Center, 63-year-old Sandra Degeyter and 61-year-old Elaine Crump, also were sentenced Friday.

Degeyter, who received two years’ probation with six months of home confinement, admitted falsifying certifications showing criminal defendants had completed court-mandated community service at the nonprofit agency, which at the time provided assistance for the homeless and recovering addicts.

Prosecutors said Williamson paid her between $5,000 and $10,000 at $100 a case to provide false community service certificates, which were placed in court files to make it appear defendants had met the requirements for the special plea deals.

Prosecutors said Crump took over Degeyter’s job at the agency at some point, and Degeyter paid Crump from $1,000 to $2,000 to be allowed to forge Crump’s signature to continue producing the false community service certificates for Williamson on Acadiana Outreach letterhead, according to the court filings.

Crump pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony for not reporting the falsification of documents and was sentenced Friday to two years’ probation with 200 hours of community service.

“These public servants and employees decided that money mattered more than justice, safety and their duty to serve the public,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in a written statement.

Williamson, 64, faces up to 10 years in prison on the bribery charge and up to five years each on the charges of conspiracy and Social Security fraud.

He is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 25.

The latter charge was for not reporting the bribes, income he was required to disclose to the government because he was receiving Social Security disability benefits.

Harson was not identified as a target of the investigation, but federal prosecutors wrote in court filings that the scheme was carried out without the DA’s knowledge because of a “lack of oversight and safeguards.”

Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes made the scandal a central issue in an election campaign that ended last year with the defeat of Harson, who had held the seat for two decades.