A former Louisiana liquor lobbyist is claiming the FBI used the threat of child porn charges against him in hopes of encouraging him to “wire up” on state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert and possibly other officials to catch them in corrupt acts.
And included in a court filing last week by Christopher G. Young is an internal memorandum by FBI Agent Maurice J. Hattier Jr. which says agents asked Young about allegations that Hebert’s office gave favorable treatment to Young’s clients — marking the clearest documentation yet the government has been investigating Hebert.
Hebert has previously denied reports he was under FBI investigation about whether he issued a liquor license to a New Orleans business in exchange for sex.
The memo by Hattier was issued Nov. 13, a few days before Hebert announced he would step down from the ATC so he could spend more time with his family and mull a political run. He’s now a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat.
“I am sorry to hear that a friend of mine is allegedly being extorted to set me up, but I am proud of my service as ATC Commissioner,” said Hebert in a statement Monday. Hebert added he was vindicated by Young’s statement that he didn’t have any incriminating information on him.
The filing by Young, who’s also a lawyer, alleges a political twist to what might otherwise be seen as a straightforward case of child pornography.
Young, 53, who was indicted in May by a federal grand jury on counts of child pornography possession and distribution, admits he received unsolicited videos of a boy engaging in a sex act with a donkey and forwarded the clips to friends, family members and clients. But he says federal authorities didn’t take the videos seriously until they later decided to retaliate against him after he refused to leak information about Hebert.
Young says in his motion that he regrets his bad judgment in sending the clips, but didn’t consider the videos to constitute child pornography, adding he has no desire to exploit children.
Young — the brother of former Jefferson Parish President John Young — alleges that after the FBI found out about the videos, federal authorities waited months to prosecute him. Young says the authorities reviewed his phone and copied the contraband from it in August, but returned it to him with the offending media intact, telling him they didn’t think he posed any danger to children.
“If you’re asking me if I think you’re a child predator or child pornographer, no. But I do think you are politically incorrect,” Young alleges FBI Agent Stephen Soli told him in August.
An FBI document written by Soli dated Aug. 4 stated Young told a coworker the offensive imagery came from Costa Rica, a country Young frequents since he is a part-owner of a hotel there. A separate memo by Hattier claims Young mentioned he travels with Hebert frequently, noting Hebert always pays his own way, but the second document did not mention Costa Rica.
In late October, Young alleges, the FBI approached him again, fishing for information about public officials and dangling the threat of a child pornography charge if he didn’t comply.
“What about Troy Hebert? You and Troy are good friends. You definitely know something about him,” Young alleges Hattier told him.
In Hattier’s memo in November, he writes that given Young’s professional ties, agents believed Young might have “useful information” for the government relating to political corruption, and Hattier acknowledges he mentioned Hebert’s name as part of this request.
“The FBI had previously received allegations that Young’s clients regularly received favorable treatment from Hebert’s office,” Hattier wrote, without providing more detail. Hattier also wrote it was a mistake for the FBI to have returned Young’s phone to him without first removing the offensive videos.
FBI spokesman Craig Betbeze said the agency could not comment on the case.
Hebert, on Monday, said as ATC commissioner he aggressively cleaned up the agency and industry, including rooting out fraud, tax evasion, drug sales and prostitution at some of the businesses he regulated.
“Clearly, in trying to clean up this mess, I caused some powerful people to lose thousands, if not millions, of dollars by shutting down illegal operations. So it would not surprise me at all to learn that complaints had been filed against me with anyone who would listen,” Hebert said.
Young, who says he was “selectively and vindictively prosecuted,” resigned as lobbyist for the Beer League of Louisiana last month. He continues to practice law. One of his attorneys, William P. Gibbens, said he would not comment on the case beyond the information in the motion.
If convicted, Young could be sentenced to five years in prison and would be branded a sex offender for life, he said in his motion.
Walt Green, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana whose office is prosecuting the case against Young, declined to comment Monday on Young’s claims. Green pointed to his department’s response filed on Friday which denies any retaliation and underscores that child pornography is a serious crime and that the government has wide discretion in deciding whom to prosecute.
“Apparently, (Young) believes that the Constitution affords special protection to politically-connected lobbyists,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cam T. Le and Rene I. Salomon, in their response to Young.
An evidentiary hearing in the case is set for Sept. 15 at the federal court in Baton Rouge.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.
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