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LAFAYETTE, La. – United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced today that five defendants were sentenced for their roles in a pay-for-plea scheme that garnered favorable treatment for defendants charged with various state crimes.
Barna D. Haynes, 61; Greg Williams, 46; and Sandra Degeyter, 63, all of Lafayette were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote on one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. Denease Curry, 49, of Broussard, and Elaine Crump, 61 of Lafayette, were also sentenced by Foote on one count of misprision of a felony for failure to report bribes offered and received by employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Hanyes, Williams and Curry were former employees District Attorney’s Office. Degeyter and Crump were former employees of Acadiana Outreach. For sentencing details see the graphic below:
According to the guilty pleas, the defendants conspired with Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson, 64, who is not licensed to practice law, to move cases through the legal system. From March 2008 to February 2012, Williamson solicited thousands of dollars from individuals with pending criminal charges in the 15th Judicial District and promised them favorable resolutions to pending felony and misdemeanor cases, the majority of which were OWI cases. The favorable resolutions were obtained by improperly manipulating the procedures set forth in Louisiana Criminal Code of Louisiana Procedure Article 894.
Article 894 provides a process by which a person can initially plead guilty to a crime with the understanding that the conviction will be set aside if the person successfully completes certain requirements imposed during a probationary period. The District Attorney’s Office had previously established a process by which select defendants could receive what was referred to as “immediate 894 pleas” on OWI cases. In order to qualify for the immediate 894 plea, the charged individuals were required to provide certifications at the time of the plea stating that they had completed all legal prerequisites, including community service, a substance abuse program and a driver safety program. If the District Attorney authorized the immediate 894 plea, the case was not placed on any docket, and the defendant was allowed to plead at a time and place different than the normal OWI docket. Following the entry of the immediate 894 plea, the judge would grant the 894 motion, dismissing the conviction, which served as an acquittal, thereby enabling those OWI defendants to immediately reinstate their driving privileges with no record.
Defendant Williamson charged individuals as much as $5,000 to participate in the Article 894 process. He also paid bribes in cash and other things of value to employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney=s Office, who included Haynes, who at the time worked as the administrative assistant to the district attorney; Williams, who was an assistant district attorney; and Curry, who was Williams’ secretary and assisted Haynes with the Williamson cases. Williamson also paid bribes in cash and other things of value to employees of other organizations associated with the OWI program, including Acadiana Outreach, where Crump and Degeyter were formerly employed. Williamson obtained false and fraudulent certifications from Acadiana Outreach, which certified that his clients completed court-ordered community service when in fact the individuals had not.
Beginning in 2008, Haynes began transferring Williamson’s “clients” from city court to district court. Specifically, if one of Williamson’s clients was scheduled to appear in city court, Haynes transferred the case to district court and scheduled the case to be resolved during one of the “immediate 894 sessions.” Haynes also prepared the expungement paperwork associated with Williamson’s clients and was paid $500 for each case. During the course of the conspiracy, Haynes received at least $55,000 from Williamson.
Williams, Assistant District Attorney for the 15th Judicial District, handled immediate 894 pleas and received bribes for his role in the scheme. Beginning in 2010, he was aware of Haynes and Williamson’s arrangement to place cases into district court to be heard as part of the 894 sessions and that Williamson was not an attorney. Williamson gave Williams payments to include $500 cash, an autographed New Orleans Saints hat, bicycles for Williams and his family members, and clothing for Williams.
Sometime beginning in 2010, Curry became aware that Haynes and Williamson were using the immediate 894 pleas for favorable disposition of certain cases, mostly OWIs. Curry began helping to coordinate the immediate 894 sessions and would contact the judge’s chambers to set up the sessions. Curry also prepared Williams’ files for the sessions. After Haynes took an extended medical leave in 2010, Williamson paid Curry $200 for each case for a total of $1,600.
Beginning in 2008, Degeyter, agreed to provide false and fraudulent Acadiana Outreach community service certificates to Williamson in exchange for money. The fraudulent certificates falsely confirmed that Williamson’s clients completed court-ordered community service. Williamson paid Degeyter $100 per certificate. Degeyter admitted producing more than 50 false certificates between the spring of 2008 and October 2009. She received between $5,000 and $10,000 in bribes.
Crump, who was also employed as a case manager at Acadiana Outreach, was asked by Degeyter to assist with continuing the scheme. The two agreed that Degeyter would continue to create fraudulent Acadiana Outreach community service certificates, and in exchange for cash payments, Crump would permit Degeyter to sign Crump’s name on the fraudulent certificates. Degeyter began providing cash payments to Crump, from $25 to $100, which was a portion of what Degeyter received from Williamson. Shortly after Crump was laid off from Acadiana Outreach in September 2011, Degeyter and Crump agreed that Degeyter would continue creating additional certificates and sign Crump’s name on them backdating the documents to dates within Crump’s employment at Acadiana Outreach. She received between $1,000 and $2,000 in bribes.
“These public servants and employees decided that money mattered more than justice, safety and their duty to serve the public,” said Finley. “I hope these convictions send a message that the facilitation of schemes like this are not worth it. I want to thank all of the prosecutors, agents and law enforcement who worked diligently on this case. Their hard work is to be commended for assisting in putting an end to this OWI scheme.”
Williamson pleaded guilty June 8, 2015, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, 10 years in prison for one count of bribery, and five years in prison for one count of Social Security fraud. He also faces a $250,000 fine or both with up to three years of supervised release for each count. Sentencing date is September 25, 2015.
The FBI and the Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Luke Walker and Robert C. Abendroth are prosecuting the case.