CONVENT — Gramercy Mayor Steve Nosacka and Jody Chenier, the retired longtime No. 2 official in St. James Parish government, accepted immunity deals in exchange for their testimony in the ongoing malfeasance in office prosecutions against the parish president and his right-hand man.
Prosecutors with 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin and the state Attorney General Jeff Landry's Office disclosed the deals in court papers filed last week.
The state also recently revealed more details about the charges against Parish President Timmy Roussel and parish Director of Operations, Blaise Gravois, including over negotiations to build a new gas line to the Millennium Galvanizing plant north of Convent.
In September 2016, a St. James Parish grand jury charged Roussel and Gravois of illegally directing public work on private property, some of it in the months before Roussel's re-election bid in 2015.
In the case of Millennium, both Roussel and Gravois have been accused of authorizing and overseeing the installation of a gas line using parish employees with the company not having to pay the parish for the work.
The immunity agreements for Nosacka and Chenier were granted sometime in 2016 while the grand jury probe was underway, according to the new court papers and the men.
The newly disclosed documents related to the immunity agreements don’t say why the men would need them or whether they faced any criminal liability.
But among the court papers is a 2016 order from 23rd Judicial District Judge Jason Verdigets ordering Nosacka to testify before the grand jury and any future criminal trial.
In exchange for not allowing Nosacka to invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, Verdigets' order says Nosacka can't be prosecuted for anything he discloses, except for perjury.
The court papers don't include a similar order for Chenier but instead provide an undated memo from the District Attorney's Office saying he had been granted immunity in exchange for “any information” about parish government.
Both Nosacka and Chenier were in a position to know about the public works at issue. Chenier, who worked 31 years in parish government, retired in mid-July 2015 from the position that Gravois now holds and oversaw public works. At the time of Chenier's departure, Gravois was Chenier's top deputy.
Nosacka has had a long-standing contract as the parish's economic development consultant and helped market its utility services to industrial clients.
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Defense attorneys have claimed that the charges against the two men amount to the criminalization of normal public projects and were the result of a political dispute between Babin and Roussel. They have said repeatedly neither man got something in exchange for the alleged improper work and always intended on Millennium paying for the work.
Millennium officials also previously testified that they always intended on paying for the line.
The new filings allege that while donation of the gas line was in discussion, Gravois angled for a job from Millennium for his daughter, Maci Gravois, which she was given in November 2015.
Prosecutors accused Blaise Gravois of restarting the Millennium project in July 2015 when he took over from the retired Chenier and knew the parish had no deal for the work. Chenier had stopped work three months earlier when the parish and Millennium could not agree on a gas supply deal to recoup the cost of the gas line installation.
Quoting email exchanges among parish and Millennium officials, the new filings reveal that Nosacka discussed with Millennium officials and with Roussel and Blaise Gravois the possibility of donating the gas line, which was then under construction. Originally, in 2014, a proposed parish gas supply contract was being discussed with Millennium that would have reimbursed the cost of the line but the deal fell through, the new filings say.
In one series of emails on March 28, 2016, Nosacka asked Roussel about a nearly $23,000 parish invoice for gas service that had been sent to Millennium. Millennium was buying gas from another supplier, not from the parish.
Roussel responded to Nosacka that he will have to talk to Gravois first, but added, “I am sure that they are not even buying gas from us.”
“They are not …,” Nosacka responded. ”I suspect this is the gas line installation cost. If you recall we discussed this, but never came to a conclusion as to what to do about it. My recommendation was/is that we not bill them for reimbursement.”
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Almost since the two were indicted, the separate Roussel and Gravois cases have run into tough sledding in court, putting prosecutors on the defensive. Two state district judges and an appellate panel have found fault with Assistant District Attorney Bruce Mohon’s roles as the parish's legal adviser and as a criminal prosecutor while the investigation into Roussel and Gravois was underway.
According to court testimony, Mohon, who maintains he was not involved in the criminal case, advised the then-Parish Council chairman against accepting payment for the gas line from Millennium around the time the indictments came down.
One judge found Mohon's misconduct so severe she threw out all Gravois’ charges. An appellate panel later reinstated them but found Mohon’s dual roles amounted to misconduct. Relying on that ruling, the judge presiding over Roussel’s case recently recused Babin's office. The state Attorney General's Office is now prosecuting the case.
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In response to the latest filings, attorneys for Roussel and Gravois asserted the allegations were baseless and an attempt to perpetuate a case that is without merit.
Matthew Chester, defense attorney for Gravois, accused Babin’s office, which filed the newest accusation against Blaise Gravois over getting his daughter a job, of resorting to “a new low," was a college graduate who was over qualified for the job.
Brian Capitelli, defense attorney for Roussel, said the immunity deals are an attempt by the state to create a crime where none exists,” just as it did when Mohon attempted “to thwart the payment by Millennium.”
“Where there is no crime — there is no need for immunity. Mr. Roussel looks forward to being cleared of these baseless allegations,” Capitelli said.
He added that nowhere in the state's latest filings does it show that Roussel agreed to provide the gas line for free.
Prosecutors with the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment. Citing the litigation, Crest Industries, the parent company of Millennium Galvanizing, also offered no comment Monday through attorney Brad Myers.
Chenier said Friday he testified before the grand jury, cooperated fully with prosecutors and doesn't believe he even needed an immunity deal.
"I was contacted by the DA's Office and asked questions, specific questions about certain things that were done. I just told the truth, and that was it," Chenier said.
Nosacka said Friday he also cooperated fully, turning over emails and correspondence prosecutors requested even before he received the immunity deal. He maintained it was always the parish's intent to recoup the cost of the lines through the sale of gas.
"The tough part is they're still trying to make a case out of something that doesn't exist," Nosacka said of prosecutors.