MORGAN CITY — Peter V. Guarisco and his children for decades trusted James Scott Tucker to run the family-owned holding company, Capital Management Consultants Inc., a Morgan City firm that owned a range of assets including art, property and cash.
Guarisco’s children now believe that trust was misplaced: Tucker, who died in January 2014, and two other employees of CMCI are accused in civil and criminal court of stealing millions of dollars — perhaps tens of millions — from the family by looting CMCI for decades.
“None of us would ever have dreamed in a million years that Scott would have done that,” said Marwan Mohey El Dien, who is married to one of Peter Guarisco’s daughters. “Peter Guarisco treated Scott like he was his child. He trusted Scott beyond belief.”
Guarisco’s heirs, including Mohey El Dien and his wife Laura Lea Guarisco, filed a lawsuit in December alleging theft and fraud by Tucker and other former CMCI employees, and also members of Tucker’s family who might now possess some of the stolen property.
The suit says Tucker “was thought of as a trusted family member on whom they could depend to look out for their business interests, money and property.” Instead, Guarisco’s heirs claim, Tucker kept years of theft covered through false statements, false financial reports and all-around deceit.
In the suit, they portray Tucker as a con artist who purported to be honest, disciplined and a straight steward of their wealth, while simultaneously helping himself to their money for decades. They claim he bought millions of dollars in rare art and high-end cars for his family and that he and two other CMCI employees stole millions of dollars in cash.
Peter Guarisco hired Tucker, an accountant, in 1977 to handle taxes, transactions and cash for CMCI and other businesses owned by his family, which is part of a larger clan of wealthy Guariscos in St. Mary Parish. Tucker’s responsibilities grew as the elder Guarisco’s and his children’s trust in him grew.
After Peter Guarisco died at age 77 in 2005, his children sought to reassure Tucker that their trust in him was solid and raised his salary, Mohey El Dien said.
Now the Guariscos, police and prosecutors believe Tucker and two CMCI employees — Karen Duhon and Donna Sue Peveto — ran a scam for decades. Investigators believe Tucker, Duhon and Peveto were able to pull it off because Tucker tightly controlled the CMCI financial records and was able to hide the fraud in the numbers, according to court documents.
“Scott was an accountant, and he made all of the thefts disappear in the accounting,” Mohey El Dien said.
Tucker, according to the lawsuit, was an endearing man with the ability to foster trust. “His apparent openness and willingness to discuss even the most insignificant details led all to believe he was performing his fiduciary duty and had their (the Guarisco family’s) best interest at heart in all business dealings,” the suit states.
All the while, Mohey El Dien said, Tucker was stealing Guarisco money on a grand scale and using some of it to purchase expensive firearms, high-end cars and art masterpieces for himself and his family.
Morgan City police last year arrested the former CMCI employees, Duhon and Peveto, on counts of theft. Last month, police arrested Duhon’s husband, Armond Duhon, accusing him of using his company, A-B-C Siding Company of Morgan City, to steal CMCI money. Armond Duhon also is accused of trying to intimidate a witness in the case.
On Monday, prosecutors with the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office charged the Duhons, Peveto and two businesses with 100 counts of money laundering, one count of racketeering and 354 counts of theft over $1,500. If the allegations are true, the thefts were far in excess of $1,500. According to the 81-page bill of information that charged the defendants, they allegedly stole tens of thousands of dollars most every month from January 2001 to March 2014.
The thefts were carried out, according to the lawsuit, through accounting tricks such as charging CMCI’s account with grossly inflated expenses. In one instance, a $738 actual expense was billed to the company as a $9,738 expense, with Duhon allegedly depositing the difference in her personal checking account, the suit states.
The bill of information filed by prosecutors alleges those types of thefts, which Peveto is accused of participating in on some occasions, occurred hundreds of times and each time ranged from a few thousand dollars to $40,000 or more.
The District Attorney’s Office also alleged in the criminal charges that Peveto stole art owned by the Guariscos, including two Salvador Dali lithographs, and that Tucker transferred the mineral rights of Guarisco-owned land to a company he controlled, Nelson-Tucker LLC.
Laura McJimsey Randall, the attorney for the Duhons in the civil suit, on Friday defended her clients. “Things are not always as they’re told by others,” she said.
Randall filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Duhons against the Guarisco heirs, CMCI and Mohey El Dien this past week seeking unspecified damages for alleged defamation. The suit states that claims about a romantic relationship between Karen Duhon and Tucker as well as the alleged thefts were unsubstantiated. The suit stated those claims made headlines and were broadcast on television news programs.
The Duhons’ attorney on the criminal charges, Bob Fuhrer, had no comment Friday.
Peveto in court records claims she has no money and is seeking pauper status. And in answers to the allegations against her in the lawsuit, Peveto stated that if there was theft, it was the Guariscos’ fault for not adequately overseeing their business “to the extent they should have … and thereby placing themselves in a position of risk which was of their own making.”
It was unclear last week if Peveto, who has a Houma address, is represented by an attorney.
Mohey El Dien said Karen Duhon and Peveto would not have been caught if they had stopped the alleged thefts after Tucker died Jan. 22, 2014. Without Tucker, he said, Duhon allegedly was unable to keep the scam under wraps.
Attorneys have tried and failed for about a year to discover what Guarisco property and cash might be in the hands, or within reach, of Tucker’s family members, Mohey El Dien said.
“We know the money is somewhere. The money did not just go to money heaven,” he said.