By RICHARD BURGESS
March 11, 2013
LAFAYETTE — Federal prosecutors allege a Lafayette private investigator operated a four-year scheme to bribe District Attorney’s Office employees in return for favorable treatment of defendants in DWI cases.
A federal grand jury on Thursday returned a nine-count indictment against Robert Williamson, 64, of Lafayette, in an ongoing bribery investigation that has already brought guilty pleas from five others.
Prosecutors are also seeking the forfeiture of $22,855 in cash and money orders seized during a Feb. 27, 2012, search of Williamson’s home.
Williamson allegedly solicited “thousands of dollars” from defendants on promises of obtaining favorable treatment in the court system, mainly in DWI cases, according to court filings from prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley declined to comment on whether anyone else has been targeted in the case.
“The investigation is ongoing,” she said. “... We are going to follow where the evidence leads us.”
Williamson’s indictment comes after guilty pleas by three former District Attorney’s Office employees. Two former employees of a non-profit agency have also pleaded guilty in the case in which certificates were falsified to show defendants had completed court-mandated community service.
All agreed to cooperate with federal authorities as part of their plea deal.
“All of those folks are clearly hoping to lighten their loads by implicating Robert (Williamson) and agreeing to testify against him,” Williamson’s attorney, J. Michael Small, said in a written statement.
Small said the indictment came as no surprise, considering that the other named defendants have made plea deals.
“There is good reason why the law provides that the testimony of such witnesses must be weighed with greater caution than the testimony of ordinary witnesses,” Small said.
The indictment alleges that Williamson operated the bribery scheme from 2008 to 2012.
He is accused of using cash and gifts to bribe District Attorney Mike Harson’s longtime office administrator, Barna D. Haynes; prosecutor Greg Williams; and Williams’ secretary, Denease Curry.
Haynes, 58, pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy for accepting a total of $55,000 to arrange special plea agreements for DWI defendants at Williamson’s request.
Haynes admitted in court documents that she routed the defendants to a special program in which their charges were quickly dismissed if they successfully completed certain probation requirements, such as drivers safety classes, substance abuse treatment and community service.
Greg Williams, 44, the state prosecutor who handled the cases, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for accepting at least one cash payment of $500 and a series of gifts, according to court filings by prosecutors.
Curry, 46, pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony for not reporting the alleged scheme after she became aware of it.
She also admitted to accepting about $1,600 for working with Haynes to coordinate special state court plea agreements that were arranged in return for the bribes.
Two former employees of the nonprofit Acadiana Outreach Center pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme, which involved falsifying certificates to show that defendants had completed community service at the agency. The agency at the time provided assistance to the homeless and recovering addicts.
Proof of the community service hours was required before a judge accepted the plea deals.
Sandra Degeyter, 61, a former case manager at the nonprofit agency, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
Elaine Crump, 59, another former Acadiana Outreach employee, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony for not reporting the scheme when she had knowledge of it.
The indictment alleges that Williamson also used false certificates to show that defendants had completed court-mandated driver safety training.
None of the cooperating defendants has implicated Harson or any local judges, Finley said.
Prosecutors have said in court filings that the bribery scheme was carried out without Harson’s knowledge because of a “lack of oversight and safeguards” in his office.
Williamson also faces counts of social security fraud for allegedly not reporting income that could have affected his social security benefits and of making a false statement to a federal investigation for allegedly telling investigators he had never made any payments to employees at the District Attorney’s Office.
The most serious charge he faces, bribery, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.