GONZALES — Olin Berthelot, the co-defendant in an election bribery case that ensnared Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, agreed on the eve of the parish's leader's trial this week to testify for prosecutors but ended up offering testimony that undercut their theory of the case.
Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa was acquitted Wednesday of election bribery allegations that lingered over him and his administration…
Now a day after Matassa, Berthelot's lifelong friend, was acquitted of bribery, Berthelot now has three options to resolve his own charge arising from accusations they tried to entice A. Wayne Lawson to drop out of a 2016 election: a reduced, misdemeanor charge; entry into a pre-trial intervention program in lieu of criminal conviction; or dismissal of the charge.
Neither side in Berthelot's case was saying Thursday which option is in the offing.
"We're still in negotiations with the Attorney General's Office to resolve Olin's case," said Steven Moore, Berthelot's defense attorney.
Assistant state Attorney General Jeff Traylor, the prosecutor, referred questions Thursday to Ruth Wisher, spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry. Wisher did not return emails for comment Thursday.
Berthelot is being tried separately before 23rd Judicial District Judge Jason Verdigets, a different judge than the one who presided over Matassa's case.
Matassa and Berthelot were accused of trying to bribe Lawson, a candidate for Gonzales City Council in the November 2016 election, to drop out of the race in exchange for a parish job and $1,200.
After a day-and-a-half bench trial, Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. aquitted Matassa, finding prosecutors did not prove Lawson was offered the job and cash in a quid pro quo deal to drop out the race.
GONZALES — Prosecutors asked a state district judge Tuesday to hold Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa accountable for an alleged briber…
In the lead up to the trial, Traylor would not say what Berthelot's testimony for the prosecution would be but did say Berthelot had not signed a formal plea agreement.
Moore, the defense attorney, notes that as part of the verbal agreement his client promised only to testify truthfully to what he knew.
"Olin (Berthelot) would never testify against Kenny Matassa 'cause he had nothing bad to say," Moore said Thursday. "Olin (Berthelot) believed what they did was not illegal, not improper, as the judge had ruled, and it was never going to be against Kenny Matassa."
At trial, Berthelot laid out his own role in talking with Lawson about the election, parish job and cash and setting up Lawson's prospective withdrawal from the race along with Lawson's receipt of the cash and application for a parish job.
But Berthelot, a Gonzales businessman who runs consumer loan companies across the state, insisted there never was a bribery attempt. Instead, he said, what the men promised Lawson represented the same kind of financial help that he and Matassa had given their old friend, Lawson, for years, whether or not he ran for office.
Moore, the defense attorney, said Thursday that he and Berthelot had been in talks with prosecutors for months about offering that testimony. Matassa's defense team also had been informed about what Berthelot could be expected to say at trial, Moore said.
Ken Levy, an LSU criminal law professor, said Matassa's acquittal certainly gives Berthelot a "good argument" for his case but said prosecutors could still make Berthelot plead guilty to a reduced criminal charge as outlined in the agreement.
"Just because one guy was acquitted of this crime and possible conspiracy does not at all mean another person should or will be acquitted of the same crime," Levy said.
Before Matassa's trial, prosecutors may have shed some light on their thinking in the cases. In early May, prosecutors and Moore agreed to delay Berthelot's trial, then scheduled for May 15, to allow Matassa's case to go first.
The joint motion to Judge Verdigets to delay Berthelot's trial says prosecutors and the defense believed the outcome of Matassa's case could be "possibly dispositive" of Berthelot's case.
Berthelot has a trial status conference set for 9 a.m. Aug. 13.