Former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel Jr. faces a federal charge of obstruction of justice stemming from a long-running grand jury investigation into allegations that he sought sexual favors from women in exchange for breaks on criminal cases.
The charge — the result of a plea agreement — comes more than three years after Morel left the District Attorney’s Office, where he spent more than 30 years in the top post.
Morel’s lawyer, Ralph Capitelli, said Tuesday that Morel intends to plead guilty.
He is due to make his first appearance in federal court before a magistrate judge at 2 p.m. Monday. At 9 a.m. on April 13, he will go before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt to enter a guilty plea.
Obstruction of justice carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The bill of information charging Morel, which was filed under seal March 31 and unsealed Tuesday, makes no mention of any sexual favors.
Rather, it says Morel, 73, knew that an unnamed person, identified in the document as “Individual A,” had photos from meetings between Morel and the individual the government wanted in connection with its investigation. According to the bill of information, Morel “intentionally harassed Individual A” and “corruptly instructed Individual A to ‘get rid of’ and ‘destroy’ evidence and to deny the inappropriateness of their meetings.”
The identity of Individual A was not immediately clear Tuesday.
The New Orleans Advocate has published the names of two women who were cooperating with the FBI’s inquiry; both of them died of drug overdoses while the investigation was continuing.
One of those women, Danelle Keim, had been wearing a wire at the government’s request and was believed to be a crucial witness in the case the FBI was building.
Keim had various scrapes with the law, and her former boyfriend, Errol Falcon Jr., was serving a 15-year sentence for burglary at the time. Authorities captured a jailhouse call in late 2009 or early 2010 in which Falcon told Keim he understood he would get a more lenient sentence if Keim performed sexual favors for Morel.
In April 2010, Keim called 911 to allege that Morel had showed up at her St. Rose home and made some type of unwelcome sexual advance. The Sheriff’s Office has refused to release a recording or transcript of the 911 call or the resulting incident report because of the ongoing probe, but the office has confirmed that such a call came in.
Keim died of an overdose in early 2013, dealing what might have been a fatal blow to the case against Morel. Her boyfriend, Matthew Savoie, who admitted that he administered the drug that killed her, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for her death, with 10 of those years suspended.
There was no evidence that Falcon received any special treatment from the District Attorney’s Office.
Months after Keim’s death, the case against Morel was refused by the U.S. Attorney’s Office; at the time, the office had an interim head, Dana Boente.
Current U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite pledged to give the case a fresh look after he took office later in 2013.
Joel Chaisson II, who took over as district attorney in 2012, issued a statement Tuesday thanking federal authorities for “taking the necessary steps to soon bring this sad chapter in the history of the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office to a long-awaited conclusion.”
Chaisson added that the charges against Morel “do not diminish or call into question in any way the outstanding and professional work being done by the many hard-working individuals who represent my office so well.”