Get Caught Up: Investigation into DA Don Landry’s office in final stretch

Federal agents leave DA's office with boxes of files in May 2022.
Federal agents depart the Lafayette Parish Courthouse after raiding the district attorney's office in May 2022. Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The gist: New developments in the bribery scheme centered on District Attorney Don Landry’s pretrial diversion program suggest federal investigators have tightened the noose on their target, former Assistant District Attorney Gary Haynes.

Interception letters have arrived. The Western District U.S. attorney’s office has mailed and/or hand-delivered notification letters to individuals not implicated in the probe but whose telephone calls were recorded in wiretaps related to it, a routine occurrence [see 8 (d)] in these types of investigations. The dates of authorized interceptions listed on letters obtained by Straight News Online, Aug. 23 - Dec.17 of 2021, coincide with two wiretaps likely related to the case. Based on the volume of recorded calls, the number of letters may be in the hundreds. 

Another vendor guilty plea could be coming next week. Former Pizza Hut franchise owner Leonard Franques, charged last week in a bill of information, is expected to plead guilty before U.S. District Judge David Joseph Dec. 29. That would make Franques the second vendor in the diversion program to cop a plea. Franques is also implicated in a related alleged bribery conspiracy involving Jack Montoucet, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ former wildlife and fisheries secretary.

Another DA vendor, Joseph Prejean, acknowledged in federal court this week that he solicited bribes from defendants who didn't qualify for the program and kicked them back to Dusty Guidry, a contractor for Landry’s office who shared the payments with another person not named in the plea deal but believed to be Haynes. 

Guidry was the first to fall. He admitted guilt in April to multiple counts related to the kickback conspiracy.

What we don’t know. The extent to which people who did not qualify for the diversion program were allowed into it because they had the wherewithal to pay, some doling out as much as $25,000 to a single vendor. “They paid way more than normal to get in,” Prejean said in court, referencing defendants who had multiple OWIs.

Landry promised to undertake an audit of the program, after Guidry’s April guilty plea. But he has since refused to say whether he followed through.

We also don’t know whether these diversion programs have any benefit on the justice system. Citing “growing concerns” more than a decade ago, the Louisiana Supreme Court began an inquiry of the state’s 42 district attorneys and their diversion programs. But Straight News Online learned this summer that the analysis was never completed.

What to watch for: Potential indictments of Haynes and Montoucet.