[StBernard] Former U.S. Rep. Richard "Rick" A. Tonry dies at 77 years old

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Jul 5 22:11:17 EDT 2012

Former U.S. Rep. Richard "Rick" A. Tonry dies at 77 years old

Published: Thursday, July 05, 2012, 5:43 PM Updated: Thursday, July 05,
2012, 6:20 PM

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune

Richard "Rick" A. Tonry, a former congressman and longtime lawyer in
Chalmette, died Tuesday at his farm in Lumberton, Miss. He was 77.

A former Jesuit seminarian and an avid fan of the fictional swordsman Zorro,
Mr. Tonry was elected to Congress from St. Bernard Parish on Nov. 3, 1976,
but resigned after serving only four months when federal investigators
uncovered a vote-buying scheme in his Democratic primary. He was the first
former congressman to go to prison for breaking federal campaign finance

A week after leaving office, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Tonry on 10
charges of election violations, including two felonies.

Mr. Tonry eventually pleaded guilty to receiving illegal campaign
contributions, conspiring to receive illegal contributions and promising
favors in return for contributions, all misdemeanors. He served six months
in a minimum-security facility.

Mr. Tonry's 1st Congressional District seat was subsequently won by
Republican Bob Livingston, who served 21 years before resigning in 1998.

In terms of his stint in prison, his son Cullen Tonry said Thursday that his
father "wouldn't have been who he was without his past. He learned some
lessons from it."

>From his time in prison until his death, Mr. Tonry ran his private legal

practice in Chalmette, for most of the ensuing years alongside former St.
Bernard Parish Councilman Mike Ginart and then in later years alongside his
two sons, Richard Tonry, 39, and Cullen Tonry, 36.

Cullen Tonry recalled his father's love of Zorro and how that fictional hero
was a bond among the men of their family -- both Cullen and Richard Tonry
and their father have a Z tattooed on their right ankles. "My father used to
see Zorro as the last real hero, as a person who defended people," Cullen
Tonry said.

In the 35 years since leaving public office, Tonry made the news a couple
other times.

In 1986, he was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted in
federal court of paying a $25,000 bribe to Larry Burgess, then-chairman of
the Chitimacha Indians of St. Mary Parish, for exclusive rights to hold
bingo games on Indian land.

That case was overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after Mr.
Tonry successfully argued that the law in question could not be applied to
an Indian chief. "We do not condone Tonry's behavior," the majority court
decision said. "The bribing of anyone is certainly ethically and morally
repugnant. However, in this case, it was not illegal."

Then, in 1999, Mr. Tonry qualified to run for the Division C judgeship in
34th Judicial District Court. But, he withdrew from the race two weeks

Survivors include his wife, Joy Willmouth Tonry; two sons, Richard Tonry and
Cullen Tonry; a daughter, Tara Tonry Alley; and eight grandchildren.

Visitation will begin Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Bernard Memorial Gardens
and Funeral Home, 701 W. Virtue St. in Chalmette, followed by a 1 p.m. Mass,
also at St. Bernard Memorial. In lieu of flowers, the family requests
donations to a scholarship in Mr. Tonry's name at the Good Shepherd School
in honor of Father Harry Tompson.

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