The Harvey Volunteer Fire District No. 2 deputy chief accused of using public money to buy items such as expensive sunglasses and a penis-enlargement pump was guilty of stealing, a Jefferson Parish state judge decided Thursday.
But 24th Judicial District Judge Glenn Ansardi ruled that the West Bank fire district’s chief, who also was charged in the case, was not guilty.
Ansardi found Deputy Chief Michael Reason guilty on two reduced counts of misdemeanor theft and two counts of filing false public records.
Reason and Chief Scott Berthelot were tried by the judge on charges that they knowingly misappropriated property tax revenue and spent it on banquets, conferences and personal items.
Reason was acquitted on two counts of conspiracy to commit theft as well as one count each of filing false public records and unauthorized use of movable property worth more than $1,000.
Ansardi acquitted Berthelot on two counts each of theft and conspiracy to commit theft.
Both firefighters’ lawyers argued that tax money provided to the fire company by Jefferson Parish’s Fire Protection District No. 6 — some $2.8 million annually — becomes private upon entering the department’s coffers. Ansardi disagreed. But the judge concluded that Berthelot had demonstrated no criminal intent with any of the money he spent, and he said Reason’s actions did not merit a felony conviction.
Berthelot’s lawyer, Wiley Beevers, said Ansardi “correctly applied the law of Louisiana to the facts. … In our opinion, justice was done.”
Reason’s lawyer, Christopher Edwards, declined to comment.
During the trial last month, Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office questioned more than $325,000 in spending between 2007 and 2012. Prosecutors Cliff Milner and Michael Morales said the defendants spent $162,000 over four years strictly on meals and entertainment.
Prosecutors pointed to rib-eye steaks, a pink iPod and $600 watches. They also said Reason spent $288 on a penis pump, $147 on fungal ointment and $290 on a pair of LSU-colored Oakley sunglasses. He was accused of billing the penis pump as a hose coupling, the ointment as sponges and medical supplies, and the sunglasses as fire goggles.
All of the spending happened after Berthelot and Reason campaigned publicly for a millage renewal intended to finance fire prevention and suppression services, wages, matching funds for pension payments and fire station renovations.
The defense argued that the money was all accounted for and spent in compliance with the department’s bylaws — and that the documents pertaining to Reason’s purchases were not public records.
Reason defended himself by saying he inadvertently used the wrong credit card when buying the penis pump. His lawyer also said treating athlete’s foot and acquiring protective eyewear were valid expenses for a fireman.
Morales, one of the prosecutors, said Reason’s disguising the penis pump as a hose coupling when he billed it undermined the excuse he had used the wrong credit card.
Ansardi tentatively set Reason’s sentencing for Tuesday.
Conviction on misdemeanor theft can carry up to six months in prison and a fine of $1,000. Filing false public records convictions can carry up to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000 and restitution.