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Former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain

The tale of former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain just went from head-shaking to bone-chilling.

We already knew that Strain is implicated in a kickback scheme involving a parish work release program, thanks to a detailed federal bill of information charging two of his very close associates. Former sheriff’s office captains David Hanson Sr. and Clifford “Skip” Keen pleaded not guilty in court this week, but the existence of a bill of information suggests that guilty pleas and cooperation deals are forthcoming. That’s bad news for Strain, identified as “Public Official A,” who hasn’t been charged but does feature prominently in the document’s narrative.

Worse news for the ex-lawman is that authorities are also looking into allegations that Strain sexually abused at least four teenagers.

There are no charges here either, but the New Orleans Advocate reported this week that the same federal authorities who are looking into corruption at the work release program are also investigating allegations that Strain targeted the teens — both male and female — including two who at some point worked at the program.

There’s much we don’t know yet, including whether the teens were all under the age of consent of 17. Sources with knowledge of the probe told the paper that the alleged victims’ stories were remarkably similar, and at least one has said that the sex was not consensual. Strain’s attorney has not commented on these new allegations.

But there is one element in common between the two possible crimes: Abuse of power.

The corruption case paints Strain as a criminal mastermind who felt his job came with the right to line his pockets at taxpayers' expense. Authorities say Strain wanted to privatize the Slidell work-release program that his office operated, aimed at helping soon-to-be freed inmates make the transition, and put Hanson and Keen in charge. But because doing so would have cost them their salaries and pension accrual, they instead installed their adult children as 90 percent owners. The newly-formed firm got the job with no public bid.

Brandy Hanson and Jarret Cole Keen, who have not been charged, received at least $1.2 million over about three years, according to the feds, and roughly $700,000 of that wound up in their parents’ pockets. The parents, the charging document says, kicked some of that back to the sheriff in $1,000 increments.

The scheme pretty much epitomizes one type of brazen entitlement.

Another type is when someone in a position of authority uses it to manipulate, or do even worse things, to the less powerful. That dynamic would certainly exist between a sheriff and a teenager, whether or not the teen has celebrated his or her 17th birthday. Taking advantage of the power disparity is abuse, pure and simple.

It was bad enough when the Strain case seemed to be just the first type of story, the sort that’s already familiar to St. Tammany residents.

For all their tough-on-crime posturing, a number of parish criminal justice officials have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in recent years. Former coroner Peter Galvan pleaded guilty to both state and federal theft charges. Longtime District Attorney Walter Reed was convicted of using campaign money for personal expenses, pocketing legal fees that should have gone to the office, and more. Strain’s management of the office has been the subject of years of damning investigative media reports, and voters turned him out of office in 2015.

Now Strain’s situation appears more complicated and far more disturbing than Galvan’s or Reed’s. If the allegations pan out, St. Tammany voters could learn that they were represented for years not just by another sticky-fingered thief. They could find out that the man they once trusted to keep them safe is something even worse.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.