Feds were probing allegations he exchanged leniency for sexual favors
A federal criminal probe into whether former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel offered one or more women leniency in criminal cases in exchange for sexual favors has ended without charges, according to his attorney Ralph Capitelli.
The news comes six months after 27-year-old Danelle Keim — who had reportedly accused Morel of misconduct — died of a drug overdose. Keim had been cooperating with the FBI in its investigation of Morel, and her death was seen as a potentially major setback to the case.
Capitelli, a veteran criminal defense lawyer, said he was “notified by a federal government official” roughly two weeks ago that the FBI had delivered the Morel case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its consideration, and that the office had declined the case.
Capitelli would not name the official who told him that, but said that it was a person “from Washington, D.C., who had total knowledge of the investigation.” It was not a Justice Department official, he said.
Anna Christman, a spokeswoman for acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente, said that Boente had no comment on Capitelli’s remarks. Likewise, Mary Beth Romig, a spokesman for the FBI’s New Orleans branch, said the bureau had no comment.
Federal authorities generally do not confirm when an investigation has concluded, because doing so would tacitly confirm that there was a probe in the first place — something federal rules frown on.
The purported conclusion of the Morel investigation was reported Thursday by Nola.com. The website also reported that the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed the existence of a 911 tape in which Keim called the Sheriff’s Office on April 16, 2010.
In a public-records request, the news organization had asked for recordings of any calls “that allege sexual abuse on the part of Morel” toward Keim. The Sheriff’s Office confirmed that such a tape exists, but told Nola.com it could not have it under the state’s public records law because the law provides certain records that are part of open criminal investigations are not considered public.
St. Charles Sheriff Parish Greg Champagne did not respond to a request for records or a call seeking comment Friday.
If the probe has concluded without charges, as Capitelli maintains, the 911 recording should become a public record again. Romig, of the local FBI office, declined to answer a question about how the bureau typically handles the return of documents gathered during the course of an investigation.
The April 2010 call is the second telephone recording to surface in the probe that involves Keim. The Sheriff’s Office also turned over to the FBI a recording of a jailhouse phone call from Keim’s then-boyfriend, Errol Falcon Jr., to Keim in late 2009 or early 2010. In that call, according to a source with knowledge of it, Falcon Jr. — who was facing burglary charges — allegedly told Keim that the DA had offered him a sweet deal if Keim would agree to perform sexual favors for him.
There’s no evidence such a transaction ever took place, and Falcon Jr. wound up being sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Capitelli strongly denied that his client had ever done anything inappropriate, and he said Keim, who had had drug problems and troubled boyfriends, lacked credibility. He also raised questions about the sheriff’s role in the probe, given that Morel and Champagne had a strained relationship.
He also said that the first time he heard of the 911 tape was when he read about it online.
“Neither Harry nor I, in the whole time this case was open, ever heard anyone reference this 911 tape at all,” he said. “Why the Sheriff’s Office is choosing to make statements about this 911 tape now is more than curious. Did the sheriff hold onto this, and if so, why?”
Capitelli, who said he was in California on vacation, declined to answer a question about whether Morel visited Keim at her house in 2010.