Former West Feliciana juror fined, put on probation

A former West Feliciana Parish police juror was fined and placed on probation for five years Thursday on theft counts related to the diversion of church money to his own use.

A six-member jury convicted John Cobb, 55, on three counts of felony theft to conclude an October trial.

Twentieth Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael, while noting Cobb’s service to the community, said, “More should be expected of a leader in the community.”

Carmichael said Cobb, of Weyanoke, was the leader of a scheme to divert insurance money from a defunct Clinton nonprofit organization that was supposed to go to another nonprofit, Cobb’s Union Bethel Family Church.

“There are no grounds to excuse your conduct, and you have steadfastly refused to accept responsibility,” Carmichael said to Cobb, who served on the Police Jury for 24 years before his defeat in 2011.

The judge sentenced Cobb to three concurrent five-year prison terms, but suspended each of them and placed him on probation for five years. The terms of his probation require him to pay fines totaling $3,000 and court costs and perform 180 days of community service.

Carmichael said the community service is not to be done at the church.

The judge said the church advised that it is not seeking restitution from Cobb.

Carmichael ordered Cobb, however, to reimburse an insurance company $15,000 for the amount Cobb was alleged to have skimmed from an $80,000 payment from Feliciana Enrichment Center in Clinton to Union Bethel Family Church. The money was part of an insurance settlement after the center’s building burned to the ground in 2008.

State Police and prosecutors allege that Cobb, through a series of transactions, also put $15,000 into the church’s bank account and split the remaining $50,000 between the center’s directors, the Rev. George Veal and former East Feliciana School Board member Oliver Wingfield.

Veal, Wingfield and three defendants pleaded guilty to felony theft and also received probation.

Carmichael said he will consider District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla’s request to have Cobb pay for the prosecution costs when D’Aquilla provides him with a financial statement.

“Everybody makes mistakes, and I think he (Cobb) made mistakes in the accounting practices of the church,” Cobb’s new attorney, Robbie Gill said.

“I think Mr. Cobb is grateful that the judge gave him probation, based on his service to the community,” Gill said.

In addition to diverting the insurance money, Cobb was convicted of getting paid $5,120 from church funds in May 2009 for a steeple on the church’s new sanctuary, which was under construction at the time. Assistant District Attorney Haley Green argued in Cobb’s trial that Cobb had the steeple built in 2010, shortly after he learned State Police detectives were investigating him.

He also was convicted of taking $785 in church funds by cashing checks made out to a laborer and keeping the money himself.

D’Aquilla, who declined comment on the sentence, announced in court that Cobb still faces three criminal conspiracy counts.

Cobb’s wife, Carol, also faces trial this summer in the case.