State transportation official acquitted of bribery charge

A state Department of Transportation and Development employee was acquitted by a federal District Court jury Wednesday night of bribing the owner of Raul’s Deli in Baton Rouge in 2008.

Michael Procell, 52, of Baton Rouge, was accused of accepting $800 in cash from Raed Saymeh in exchange for issuing Saymeh a permit for a Raul’s Deli location on Plank Road, one of Procell’s attorneys, Chris Alexander, said Thursday.

The FBI videotaped Procell’s receipt of the money.

Alexander and fellow Procell attorney Steve Spring argued this week at the trial that Procell never asked for and never expected any cash for the permit.

“I am thankful to have this behind me. I am going to continue to try to help people and to be of service to the community,” Procell said in a statement.

“I honestly didn’t know what the jury was going to do,” Alexander said. “But I always thought there was a difference between doing something that is stupid and doing something that is criminal.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Walt Green said his office respects the jury’s decision. Alexander said the verdict was unanimous. U.S. District Judge James Brady presided over the three-day trial.

Procell, a senior permit specialist for DOTD at the time of the alleged bribery, is on unpaid leave from the agency. His responsibility was to approve and issue DOTD permits for local businesses.

Alexander said Procell hopes to resume full-time employment at DOTD. The agency is expected to conduct a disciplinary hearing, he added.

Federal prosecutors argued at the trial that Procell cut corners for Saymeh in the handling of the permit and did not follow proper DOTD procedure because he was being paid by Saymeh to expedite his permit, Alexander said.

Procell testified he followed proper procedure, received proper approval from DOTD to issue the permit and received no complaints from anybody at DOTD regarding his processing of the permit.