Former ATC Commissioner Painter found not guilty

Updated at

6 p.m.

Murphy J. Painter, former commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, was acquitted Friday in Baton Rouge on 29 counts of computer fraud and false statements to the FBI.

Painter had been accused of using confidential law enforcement databases to look up information on people who were not tied to any criminal investigations. He also was alleged in his indictment to have falsely told the FBI that all of the searches were for criminal justice purposes.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated five hours Thursday night and three hours Friday morning. After they were polled as to each count in their unanimous verdict, Painter gained their attention and silently mouthed the words: “Thank you.”

Painter, 60, of Gonzales, then bear-hugged his defense attorneys, Michael S. Fawer and Al J. Robert Jr.

The former chief deputy for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office served 14 years as the state’s ATC commissioner. His ATC career ended in August 2010 after he denied an alcohol license for Champions Square adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The Governor’s Office announced that day that Painter had resigned his post. Investigators of the Louisiana Office of Inspector General seized his office computer the same day.

Several months later, the OIG issued a report that alleged Painter had improperly accessed both the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database and two Louisiana law enforcement databases to gather information about a U.S. senator’s wife, a television newswoman, his administrative assistant and her attorney, as well as more than a dozen others.

Among those other searches, Painter also allegedly looked up criminal history information for two men who wanted to know whether their past brushes with the law disqualified them for concealed-weapon permits.

In both concealed-weapon cases, attorneys for both sides told jurors that Painter advised the men not to seek those permits.

In 2012, Painter, who insisted he was fired by the Governor’s Office, was indicted by a federal grand jury that received some of the allegations contained in the OIG report.

Outside the federal courthouse Friday, Painter said: “After 35 years in public service … I was kind of worried that the system was broken, and badly broken.”

Painter added he would not change a thing about the way he operated his former ATC post.

“I helped people, and I’m still going to help people,” Painter said. He said it was too early for him to decide whether to seek a return to government service.

Acting U.S. Attorney Walt Green said after the verdict: “We respect the jury’s decision. We brought charges that we believed in. The jury decided otherwise.”

Green said he is proud of the work by the prosecution team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys M. Patricia Jones, Cam T. Le and Shubhra Shivpuri.

Fawer, though, insisted the indictment should not have been obtained, adding that it could have ruined a man “who does not have a criminal bone in his body.”

As he did several times during the trial, Fawer insisted the Governor’s Office “used the excuse of these silly database searches to get rid of somebody.”

Trial testimony showed a series of temporary alcohol permits were issued for Champions Square days after Painter’s exit from ATC. Those weekend permits coincided with the New Orleans Saints’ home football games in the 2010 season.

The trial lasted two weeks, from the beginning of jury selection until Friday’s verdict.

Before leaving the courthouse, Painter thanked a crowd of family and friends for their support during what he described as a “terrible ordeal.”