A federal magistrate on Tuesday set $300,000 bail for Chad Scott, a veteran narcotics officer accused of stealing cash from drug dealers, lying under oath and falsifying paperwork during his lengthy career with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
U.S. Magistrate Janis van Meerveld rejected the government's warning that Scott might flee the country before standing trial on a host of corruption charges.
Scott, 49, posted bail at the end of Tuesday's hearing and was released from custody.
Prosecutors asked that Scott be jailed until his trial, saying the longtime agent only recently become aware of the strength of the case against him and has a history of flying internationally in private planes.
Scott could face a prison sentence of up to 17 years if convicted of conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice, among other charges.
"This is not a half-baked charge," prosecutor Antonio Pozos said. "This is powerful evidence."
Scott's defense attorney, Matt Coman, argued that the case relies on the testimony of "career criminals and crooked cops," all of whom stand to receive shorter prison terms in exchange for their cooperation.
Two former members of Scott's DEA task force, former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office deputies Johnny Domingue and Karl E. Newman, have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department.
Another task force member, Hammond police officer Rodney P. Gemar, was charged in the same indictment as Scott and released from custody.
"To say he's a danger to the community is completely hollow," Coman said of Scott. "He has no criminal history. He's not charged with any crime of violence."
Scott was arrested late Sunday at Louis Armstrong International Airport as he returned from a domestic flight. A grand jury in New Orleans indicted him Friday, but Coman said Scott did not know about the charges until agents placed him in handcuffs at the airport.
He noted that Scott had been aware of the federal investigation for at least a year and a half but didn't flee prosecution.
Scott pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday. He's scheduled to return to court next month.
Tuesday's proceedings offered new details about an investigation that began in January 2016 when State Police arrested Domingue on allegations he was dealing drugs.
The more than two-hour hearing also made clear that Newman, after months of refusing to cooperate with authorities, has accused Scott of a host of misdeeds, including coercing a witness to commit perjury in a narcotics case.
Half of the 10 counts against Scott involve his efforts to convict an alleged heroin dealer named Jorge Perralta. According to prosecutors, Scott instructed another drug dealer, Frederick Brown, to say that Perralta was present when Brown bought drugs from a third man. In fact, Brown could not even identify Perralta in a photograph, authorities said.
On Tuesday, prosecutors revealed that Scott paid Brown a visit in the Tangipahoa Parish Jail and persuaded him to cooperate in the federal case against Perralta. When Brown told Scott that he was worried about being able to identify Perralta in court, the agent told Brown to "bring his A-game," said Brad Uhl, an inspector with the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility.
Prosecutors allege that Scott committed perjury and obstruction of justice when he testified that Brown had mentioned Perralta unprompted and identified him in a photo.
A jury convicted Perralta, but the government recently dismissed the case against him before he could be sentenced.
Scott and the other defendants are also accused of storing wallets, jewelry and cash seized from suspects in a filing cabinet at the task force office, a violation of DEA policy. Once the cases were disposed of, Uhl said, the task force officers used the property for their own benefit.
After Domingue was arrested, however, Scott and Gemar shredded all the personally identifiable information that was in the filing cabinet, Uhl said. He said they threw the rest off the Interstate 55 bridge into the swamp near Manchac.
During a December 2016 search, however, investigators found a driver's license belonging to a man — identified only as K.W. — in Scott's desk. K.W.'s wallet and license had been seized by Scott in a search in 2009, prosecutors said.
Gemar, in testimony before a federal grand jury, said that he and Scott stayed in close contact after Domingue's arrest, using "burner phones" and encrypted messenger applications like WhatsApp and Cyber Dust. Prosecutors implied that the two were trying to conceal their communications amid the ongoing Justice Department investigation.
Coman, on cross-examination, said those apps are popular and used by thousands of people every day. He noted that Scott had to get a new phone after his DEA phone was taken when he was suspended in early 2016.
Coman called only one witness: a Florida attorney named Stephen Garcia. Garcia said he had met Scott through waterskiing — Scott is a champion slalom skier — and that he trusted him implicitly.
"I have allowed Chad Scott to become a member of my family," he said. Garcia hired Scott after the DEA had suspended him, and the two have traveled and worked together, even flying internationally on one of Garcia's planes, he said.
Scott spoke only at the end of the hearing, when he assured van Meerveld that he understood the conditions of his bail, which calls for him to surrender his passport and to seek permission before traveling outside southeastern Louisiana.
Afterward, he walked out accompanied by Coman, his mother and a friend. They hugged in front of the courthouse before separating.