Harry Morel

Harry Morel, a former district attorney for St. Charles Parish, La., arrives with his attorney Ralph Capitelli, right, at Federal Court in New Orleans, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The U.S. Department of Justice approved but later declined to pursue federal racketeering charges against Harry Morel, the former St. Charles Parish district attorney who admitted this year to soliciting sexual favors from women facing criminal charges, according to FBI records released Monday. 

Federal prosecutors had been planning to charge Morel with "at least 30 racketeering acts," including solicitation of sexual bribes, according to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Michael Zummer, the FBI's lead agent on the case. 

The presentation, released Monday by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office in response to a public records request, offered several new details about the long-running investigation, including allegations that Morel forced at least two women to perform oral sex on him and groped several others.

But Zummer's summary of the case, forwarded to the Sheriff's Office for consideration of potential state charges, does not explain why the Justice Department ultimately decided to charge Morel with only a single count of obstructing justice.

Morel pleaded guilty to that charge in March and is expected to begin serving a three-year prison term later this month.

A racketeering conviction would have subjected him to a prison term of up to 20 years, but prosecutors apparently decided they could not prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt, even though they threatened to charge Morel with racketeering at one point.

"During plea negotiations, we stated that Harry Morel was not guilty of, and would not plead guilty to, any sexual offenses," Morel's defense attorney, Ralph Capitelli, said Monday. "The possibility of a (racketeering) indictment was mentioned, but, in my assessment, it was clearly legally flawed."

Zummer, the FBI agent, has voiced concerns about the Justice Department's handling of the case, sending an unusual letter to U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt before Morel's sentencing last month. The letter, which Engelhardt refused to make public, refers to a number of public officials and appears to include allegations of misconduct.

Zummer apparently is facing potential disciplinary action from the FBI, which did not authorize him to submit his letter. 

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. declined Monday to explain his reasons for not pursuing racketeering charges but defended his handling of the prosecution. He said two of his predecessors declined to bring any charges against Morel because of a number of evidentiary hurdles, including the death of a key witness who wore a wire for the FBI. 

"I’m very proud of the work that we did in this case," Polite said in a telephone interview. "Anyone who has touched this case can tell you it was a difficult case, and it’s one that two previous U.S. attorneys declined." 

The PowerPoint presentation, titled "Operation Twisted Justice," offers an 87-slide summary of the FBI's case against Morel and John Landry III, the former chairman of the St. Charles Parish Hospital Board who faced charges of falsifying community-service papers, at Morel's behest, for at least three women who actually had not performed their court-ordered community service.

In all, investigators interviewed more than 100 witnesses over several years. 

While Morel was not in the end charged with any sexual offenses, he admitted to interfering with the FBI's investigation by ordering the destruction of a memory card containing photos of him meeting with Danelle Keim, the main witness in the case, who died of an overdose in 2013. Federal authorities said Morel had an inappropriate relationship with Keim, who faced DWI charges, and that he committed a sexual battery upon her.  

The St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office on Monday released Zummer's PowerPoint presentation and a series of recordings documenting Morel's relationship with Keim.

The materials were released because Landry has entered a pre-trial diversion program in lieu of prosecution, while the state Attorney General's Office recently declined to bring any state charges against Morel.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, called Morel's behavior "unconscionable" and blasted state prosecutors for giving the former district attorney a "totally free pass." Zummer's presentation said Morel could have faced state bribery charges, among others, dating back to his time in his office. 

"Justice requires that the state prosecutor — whether the attorney general or the district attorney in St. Charles Parish — move forward with state charges against him," Goyeneche said. "His sentence doesn't begin to do justice for the crimes against the public he committed in St. Charles Parish."

"People are outraged by Darren Sharper getting only 18 years? Well, this is Darren Sharper times 20," Goyeneche said. "Here's a guy who was an even more egregious criminal who's getting three years and a free pass on state violations."

In pleading guilty in federal court last month, Morel signed a court document acknowledging he "solicited sex from other individuals who were defendants or who had family members who were defendants in the St. Charles Parish criminal justice system." In many of the cases, the authorities said, Morel offered leniency to the women in exchange for the sexual favors. 

The presentation refers to some two dozen women — including a rape victim whose case had been handled by Morel's office — who accused Morel of assaulting and groping them. One woman told the authorities she "had sex with Morel for help with at least two" criminal charges, the presentation says, while another said she performed oral sex on him in exchange for help with "traffic issues."

Morel appeared to become nervous about federal interest in the case, according to the presentation, and even asked Keim at one point whether she was wearing a wire. 

Capitelli, Morel's defense attorney, said he had never received any specific allegations of sexual misconduct from the FBI. "Harry Morel denied and still denies any type of sexual assault on any woman whatsoever," he said. "Additionally, he was never charged with any sexual assault violence."

The PowerPoint presentation refers to 15 women who are said to have "failed" polygraph exams administered by the FBI when they denied having had sexual contact with Morel. Only one of those women ultimately became a cooperating witness. 

Capitelli criticized the FBI for giving those women lie-detector tests, suggesting the move reflected a desperation on the part of the bureau to find incriminating evidence against Morel.

"The tactics used by Zummer in intimidating women and forcing them to take polygraph exams is clearly an unprofessional and improper law enforcement tactic," he said. "This clearly demonstrates that Zummer has acted throughout this investigation as a rogue agent."

New Orleans Advocate staff writer Gordon Russell contributed to this article.


Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.