The sprawling investigation that has resulted in the arrest of two federal narcotics task force members on drug charges involves “multiple other individuals at federal and state levels,” a state prosecutor said in court Monday before taking the unusual step of asking a judge to close a hearing to the public.
That startling declaration — seemingly pointing to a much broader probe in the works — came in the opening moments of a bail hearing for Karl Newman, a former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who was arrested in St. Tammany Parish on Thursday.
The state, represented by prosecutor Collin Sims of the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, asked the judge to hold Newman without bail, as prosecutors had successfully done earlier with Johnny Domingue, another former Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputy who was arrested in January. Newman and Domingue were both assigned to a multi-agency narcotics task force led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In a move he admitted was rare in state court, Sims asked Judge Raymond Childress to close the hearing. The investigation is ongoing, and information presented in the hearing could “jeopardize aspects of that investigation,” Sims said.
Newman’s attorney, Ralph Whalen, did not object to the motion, and Childress agreed to clear the courtroom.
A reporter with The New Orleans Advocate registered an objection with the court, which was noted in the record.
After a little more than an hour, the parties emerged. Sims and Whalen refused to comment on what was presented in the hearing, but they confirmed that Childress had set a $250,000 bail for Newman. He faces two counts: conspiracy to distribute cocaine and abuse of office.
So far, three people have been arrested in the probe: Newman, Domingue and Rose Graham, who is not a law enforcement officer.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards, in his first public comments on the arrests of two of his deputies, called it “a sad day.” Edwards said he had not commented when first asked more than a week ago because Louisiana State Police, who are leading the investigation, had asked that all press inquiries be directed to them.
The Sheriff’s Office has cooperated fully and worked closely with state police, said Edwards, a brother of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
It remains unclear what role, if any, DEA agent Chad Scott played in the scheme. Law enforcement sources have said that Scott, a former Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputy who went to work for the DEA, has been reassigned to the federal agency’s New Jersey division. But a DEA spokeswoman has refused to answer any questions about Scott’s status, including whether he still works for the agency.
In what appears to be a related development, Keith Brown, who headed up the DEA’s New Orleans field office until recently, was recalled to Washington, D.C., last month.
Veteran agent Susan Nave has taken over as interim head of the office until Brown’s replacement, Stephen G. Azzam, arrives in April.
Editor’s Note: The story has been changed to make clear that Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards had been asked to direct all press questions on the arrest of two of his deputies to the Louisiana State Police.