Get Caught Up: Another bribery scandal at the DA's office

federal investigators hauling boxes from DA's office
In May of 2022, the FBI executed a search warrant on District Attorney Don Landry's office, located in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse, and left with boxes of records. Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

UPDATE: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet resigned his post today, five days after he was implicated in a bribery scheme involving his office. Read The Advocate story here.

The gist: A decade after a bribery scandal roiled the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, costing DA Mike Harson his reelection bid in 2014, federal prosecutors this week began laying out a similar but more sophisticated kickback scheme that started under DA Don Landry’s administration.

At least one defendant has pleaded guilty to multiple counts, according to court records. Dusty Guidry was a contractor for the DA’s office who was kept on by Landry even after his December 2021 arrest in St. Martin Parish on several felony drug charges, including manufacture, possession with intent to distribute, and transactions involving proceeds from drug offenses.

Get caught up, quickly: In May of 2022, the FBI raided the district attorney’s Downtown office. At the time, Landry confirmed the investigation centered on the office’s pretrial intervention program, but sought to downplay the probe, saying an increase in defendants entering the program had caught the FBI’s attention.

“We have put significant effort into improving our Pretrial lntervention Program, and the numbers of enrollees in that program has increased. That has allowed our Pretrial lntervention Program to help more people than in prior years,” Landry said at the time.

The pretrial intervention program was vastly expanded under Landry, records obtained by The Acadiana Advocate last year show. The newspaper found that enrollment in 2019 was 458 and dropped to 296 in 2020. In 2021, the year Landry took over the office, enrollment jumped to 837. From January until May 2022, the month the feds came calling, 325 defendants entered the program, higher than all of 2020. Prosecutors say that was by design, contending that Guidry and at least one other official in the office “loosened and caused to be loosened the eligibility requirements of defendants” so vendors could collect and kick back more money.

Details outlined. In a plea agreement unsealed this week, Guidry admitted he and another person within the DA’s office, identified in court documents as Public Official #1 received kickbacks in exchange for steering PTI defendants to four colluding vendors over a period of about 17 months. Guidry illegally took in more than $830,000, including $306,000 from a company identified as Vendor #4.

PO-1? While the plea does not identify the official in the DA's office, it is believed to be Gary Haynes, the assistant district attorney who headed the program. Landry, who brought Haynes back into the DA's office after his election in 2020, was initially hesitant to put Gary Haynes on unpaid leave while the investigation continued. Haynes’ wife, Barna, served time in federal prison for her role in the bribery scandal involving OWI offenders during Harson’s administration. Mayor-President Josh Guillory, in contrast, immediately suspended Haynes from his position as city prosecutor.

Landry responds. “To find out that certain vendors were paying part of their fee revenue to Dusty Guidry is disheartening and their actions seriously betrayed the public trust,” Landry said in a Wednesday statement. “We cannot ever tolerate someone taking bribes to enrich themselves while working in any capacity for the DA's office.” Landry did not mention PO-1; he went on to say safeguards have since been put into place but did not elaborate.

Read the bill of information charging Dusty Guidry here and stipulated factual basis for his guilty plea here.

What did Landry know? In messages left on his cell phone, Straight News Online asked Landry specific questions about the audit he promised to conduct after the May search of his office, and whether Haynes has been terminated from the office. Landry's calendar entries show multiple meetings with criminal defense attorney Gerald Block from August to October, according to records provided by his office. Block would neither confirm nor deny his representation of Landry.

“I am not doing interviews since there is a pending investigation,” Landry said in a text reply late Thursday.

PO-2? Sources with knowledge of the investigation and public records implicate Jack Montoucet, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Montoucet, who was appointed to the post by Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2017, signed a contract on Oct. 8, 2021, with a company identified as Vendor #1, according to records obtained from LDWF by Straight News Online. Citing the date that contract was executed, prosecutors say Guidry and PO-2 steered LDWF contracts to Vendor #1 in exchange for payments and other tangible benefits. The factual basis for Guidry's plea indicates that PO-2 was to receive the kickbacks after retiring from wildlife and fisheries. Read more about Montoucet's alleged involvement here.

Gov. Edwards' office has yet to take any action involving Montoucet, saying only in an emailed response that it is “seeking more information.” Straight News Online contacted the office late Monday afternoon, asking for confirmation that the unnamed official was Montoucet. Spokesman Eric Hall responded two days later that the office learned about the allegations in the bill of information only after being asked about it by the media, but he did not address the questions about Montoucet.

Guidry is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 12 at 10 a.m. It's unclear what his guilty plea means for others implicated in the schemes.

Both Harson and Haynes were investigated a decade ago but never charged. Haynes did not respond to a phone message or text seeking comment.