Probe into former St. Charles DA still open

Advocate photo by Pam Bordelon  Being inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame are, from left, St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel Jr.
Advocate photo by Pam Bordelon Being inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame are, from left, St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel Jr.

A federal investigation is apparently continuing into allegations that former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel offered legal breaks to one or more women in exchange for sexual favors.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Pat Yoes recently sent an email to the New Orleans Advocate explaining the office could not fulfill a public-records request because “the document you request has been previously provided to the FBI at their request.”

Yoes added: “They continue to assert that this document is part of an ongoing investigation.”

Morel’s attorney, Ralph Capitelli, confirmed Wednesday he had spoken to at least one witness the FBI interviewed in recent weeks, though he characterized the FBI’s continuing inquiry as a desperate effort to keep the probe alive.

The interview, Capitelli said, occurred after a federal official told him the U.S. Attorney’s Office had formally declined to prosecute the case.

Capitelli has been unwilling to name the official who told him that, but he has said it was a person “from Washington, D.C., who had total knowledge of the investigation.”

That person was not a U.S. Department of Justice official, Capitelli said.

FBI spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig said Wednesday the bureau would not comment on whether the case remains open.

The FBI generally does not discuss its probes, or even confirm they exist, even when news of them becomes public.

Through a spokeswoman, acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente also declined to comment.

The federal probe into Morel appeared to suffer a setback in February when a woman who was cooperating with federal authorities died of a drug overdose in her Destrehan apartment.

Danelle Keim, 27, had reportedly accused Morel of some kind of misconduct.

The Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that on April 16, 2010, Keim called 911 to complain of some type of abuse or misconduct by Morel.

The office has been unwilling to provide the tape to the New Orleans Advocate and other news organizations that have sought it, citing the ongoing probe.

The office also turned over to the FBI a second recording, this one memorializing a jailhouse phone call from Keim’s then-boyfriend, Errol Falcon Jr., to Keim. In that call, according to a source with knowledge of it, Falcon — who was facing burglary charges — allegedly told Keim the district attorney 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 wound up being sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Weeks before Keim died, the FBI subpoenaed roughly 1,200 DWI case records from the St. Charles Parish clerk of court, apparently in a search for other potential victims. It’s not clear whether those records turned up more evidence.

Capitelli said he believes the probe is essentially over — or perhaps on life support — but the FBI is reluctant to throw in the towel in a case the bureau had invested substantial time in.

He also has suggested the Sheriff’s Office is heavily invested in the case because Morel and Sheriff Greg Champagne always had a strained relationship.

“The one supposed ‘real witness’ that they had in the case is dead. So where do they think they’re going with the case?” Capitelli asked. “The U.S. attorney has already judged it as insufficient.”

While Keim apparently died of a drug overdose, the Sheriff’s Office has booked six people, including her boyfriend, in her death under a state law that says people who provide or sell drugs that lead to a fatality can be guilty with second-degree murder.

Three of the six arrested were booked on that charge, while another was booked with being a principal to second-degree murder, and two others were booked with drug charges.

Yoes said those charges do not require the state to prove anyone intended to kill Keim, but simply that they provided the narcotics that led to her death.

The boyfriend, Matthew Savoie, said he and Keim had each taken an Ecstasy pill the night before she died. He said he awoke to find Keim face down on the sofa, with vomit coming out of her mouth.

He said he performed CPR but to no avail.

The St. Charles Parish Coroner’s Office has declined to provide a copy of the autopsy.

The Sheriff’s Office previously announced that Keim died of an overdose of methylone.

Savoie told deputies that Keim also took Xanax and Adderall. A deputy found prescription bottles containing amphetamine salt and alprazolam in the apartment Keim and Savoie shared.