[StBernard] Feds feared St. Bernard judge under investigation might hurt himself

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Apr 28 21:15:12 EDT 2009

Feds feared St. Bernard judge under investigation might hurt himself
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Monday April 27, 2009, 9:01 PM
Friday's FBI arrest of St. Bernard Parish District Judge Wayne G. Cresap
came after concerns that the judge might harm himself if agents didn't make
a move, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said Monday.

Letten would not go into detail about how seriously Cresap might have
injured himself or how agents learned about the risk, but he said "the
timing of the arrest was precipitated in some significant measure by our

Cresap was released Monday evening from Orleans Parish Prison after Letten's
office and Cresap's attorney agreed he was no longer a danger to himself,
three days after he was arrested on wire fraud charges stemming from an
alleged judicial corruption scheme.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk released Cresap on a $100,000 signature
bond after a medical examination, meaning the judge did not have to put up
any money, authorities said. Cresap's attorney, Pat Fanning, said "it did
seem a little ironic" that the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office were
primarily concerned about Cresap's mental health.

"They think the man is depressed, so leave it to the federal government to
lock him in parish prison over the weekend to cheer him up, " he said.

Lawyers not arrested

No other hearings have been scheduled in the case, and no other arrests have
been made despite an FBI affidavit that alleges at least two unnamed lawyers
had a bond-rigging arrangement with the 62-year-old state judge. Letten
would not say why the unnamed lawyers have not been arrested, but he said
the investigation is ongoing.

According to the affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Todd Goodson, Cresap
accepted cash in exchange for allowing inmates to be released from the St.
Bernard Parish Prison without having to put up money for the bond.

In exchange for cash from two lawyers, described in the affidavit as "Lawyer
A" and "Lawyer B, " Cresap allegedly converted secured bonds, which require
actual money to be pledged, into personal surety bonds that required only a
written agreement that the money would be paid if the defendant didn't
appear in court. The lawyers would take cash from the inmate's
representatives and split the money with Cresap.

The affidavit says Cresap "financially benefited from a discretionary
decision he made as a public official, thereby breaching his duty of honest,
faithful and disinterested service to the public."

Cresap admitted the scheme when FBI agents confronted him in a parking lot
April 9, according to the affidavit. He was arrested more than two weeks
later and charged based on a criminal complaint, an unusual tactic for cases
involving white-collar defendants.

In political corruption cases, federal authorities typically seek
indictments from a grand jury, then arrange for defendants to surrender at
court. Letten said the U.S. attorney's office still has to seek formal
charges through a grand jury indictment or a bill of information.

The FBI investigation came in part from information gathered by the
Metropolitan Crime Commission after an 18-month review of bond information
in the 34th Judicial District.

Out since Good Friday

State District Judge Kirk Vaughn, who serves with Cresap on the St. Bernard
Parish-based 34th Judicial District, said Cresap has not worked since Good
Friday, a day after the April 9 meeting with the FBI. Vaughn said Cresap
called him to say he would be on leave for a medical problem and asked for
help handling his caseload.

Vaughn and Judge Robert Buckley, the district's chief judge, said Monday the
four other judges have been rotating Cresap's Division C duties since he
left and will continue to do so.

"We were doing this before his arrest, because he had been out on what we
thought was medical leave, " Buckley said.

If Cresap is indicted, the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, a nine-member
independent body of lawyers, citizens and federal and state judges, could
seek an interim disqualification that would be decided upon by the Louisiana
Supreme Court. If Cresap is disqualified, other judges in the 34th Judicial
District Court could ask for a temporary replacement, usually a retired
judge appointed by the Supreme Court.

If convicted, Cresap faces a maximum prison term of five years and a
$250,000 fine. He could also be ordered to pay restitution, according to a
news release last week from Letten's office.

The accusations against Cresap are similar to those that sent two Jefferson
Parish judges, Ronald Bodenheimer and Alan Green, to prison earlier this
decade in the FBI's Wrinkled Robe investigation. The difference is that
Bodenheimer and Green were accused of manipulating bonds in exchange for
gifts from a bail bond executive, Louis Marcotte III, not from lawyers as
suggested in this case.

. . . . . . .

Laura Maggi contributed to this story.Chris Kirkham can be reached at
ckirkham at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3321.

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