Former Jefferson Parish Justice of the Peace Patrick Dejean was found guilty in federal court this week of illegally garnishing wages and using his office to secure loans for himself.
A jury deliberated for about three hours Wednesday before finding Dejean, 40, guilty on 13 counts of mail fraud and three counts of making false statements to a bank, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana. The Western District prosecuted the case in New Orleans because the Eastern District recused itself.
Jurors found that from May 2009 through August 2016, Dejean diverted money from a 2nd Justice Court bank account for his personal use and made false statements to a bank to improperly borrow money on behalf of the court, which he later spent on himself.
Dejean faces up to 20 years in prison for each mail and wire fraud count and up to 30 years for each count related to making a false statement to a bank. U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon set his sentencing for May 23.
Dejean's attorney argued that any irregularities were due to his client's lack of bookkeeping experience and the greed and drinking habits of the court’s constable, Antoine Thomassie, who pleaded guilty in state court last year to one count of malfeasance in office.
Jurors, however, also were asked to consider evidence that Dejean regularly abused garnishment procedures to defraud creditors and debtors.
“In this case, the justice of the peace targeted some of the most vulnerable members of our society and stole their hard-earned wages, defrauded banks, and abused the trust placed in him by the public,“ U.S. Attorney David Joseph said in a news release. “This verdict should serve as a warning to other Louisiana public officials who may intend to use elected office to line their own pockets.”
Prosecutors showed that Dejean did not forward to creditors the proper amounts of wage garnishments collected and instead spent the money himself, primarily to gamble at local casinos. He also continued to garnish the wages of unsuspecting debtors after they had already paid the amount owed under a judgment, prosecutors said.
The jury also found that Dejean lied on applications in 2012 and 2013 to influence First Bank and Trust to lend more than $50,000 to the 2nd Justice Court.
Dejean applied for bank loans on behalf of the court despite knowing that the court was prohibited by Louisiana law from borrowing money. Rather than using the loan proceeds for expenses related to the court, Dejean gambled with the money and used it for personal expenses, prosecutors said.