Walter Reed, the longtime North Shore district attorney-turned-convicted criminal, says he’s ready to go to prison.
To which I say this: Welcome to the club, sir. A lot of people following this long-running saga have been ready for years.
Before his dramatic downfall, Reed, who was convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud and money-laundering, built a career and a political empire as a zero-tolerance law-and-order type. His trial showed him to be something else entirely, a moral relativist who used his position to pad his wallet.
According to the 2016 jury verdict, Reed hatched a scheme to personally pocket legal fees paid by St. Tammany Parish Hospital, even when he sent public employees do the actual work for which he billed. He claimed extra retirement and medical benefits for himself and some employees, even as he collected a $200,000 public salary. He used campaign donations to entertain preachers he hoped would refer private legal clients.
And rather than accept the jury’s verdict, he offered a series of excuses as to why it should be overturned — a process that allowed him to remain a free man through a series of appeals that focused in part on whether Reed should have been tried in federal court for charges stemming from state campaign finance law. That’s not exactly a ringing claim of innocence.
Nor did it impress the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of three judges upheld his conviction in November, and the court recently rejected his request for an en banc rehearing. That prompted new U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser to ask U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon to declare that Reed’s time is up, that further appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are unlikely to be fruitful, and that Reed should finally begin serving his four-year sentence.
Still, his lawyer pushed back.
"Why the rush to judgment?" his attorney, Richard Simmons, asked in court this week.
Three years after the jury ruled, it’s hard to take a question like that seriously. Fallon didn’t and ordered Reed to report on April 1.
Of course, Reed has as much of a right as any convicted criminal to keep professing his innocence and to try to make the system work to his advantage. But there’s something profoundly unseemly about his reluctance to take personal responsibility for his infractions, given his past position and stature.
He was supposed to be above all of this, to set an example, to instill trust in the courts rather than use his position for personal gain. He was supposed to be beyond reproach.
Instead, he joined a pair of other notorious North Shore law enforcement leaders in casting the whole system in a negative light. Former Coroner Peter Galvan was also charged with using his office to enrich himself, and he pleaded guilty and went to prison. And former Sheriff Jack Strain is apparently the central figure in an ongoing probe into a kickback scheme surrounding a sheriff’s office work release program and is also under investigation for allegations that he sexually abused several underage victims.
Despite his lawyer’s protestations, Reed said this week that he’s ready to start doing his time.
"I'm ready to go. I got my toothbrush all packed," he said. "Like any adversity in my life, I'm going to try and rise above it and make something positive out of it."
Once there, Reed said he hopes to teach a Bible study and to help some of his “worthy” fellow inmates by offering legal help.
Sounds like a decent enough plan. It also sounds long overdue.