Local lawyer Don Simmons Jr. was accused Wednesday of offering a $50,000 bribe to a city police officer in 2008 if the officer, then a member of Mayor-President Kip Holden’s security detail, would vouch for the allegations contained in a racially charged flier circulated during the 2008 mayoral race.
The flier, distributed under a false name and appearing in thousands of mailboxes, accused Holden of engaging in an extramarital affair before the mayor allegedly was severely beaten by the white woman’s husband.
Holden has denied those allegations.
An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Simmons, 43, on one count of public bribery, which carries up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
State District Judge Mike Erwin set Simmons’ bail at $25,000. Simmons’ case has been assigned to state District Judge Don Johnson.
The indictment alleges Simmons, a former City Court prosecutor, offered to give $50,000 to Officer Gordon “Trey” Bargas III on Aug. 11, 2008.
First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns described Bargas as the victim in the case and said the alleged bribery involved “political overtones.” She declined to elaborate.
Philip House, an attorney for Simmons, was in 19th Judicial District Court Commissioner Rachel Morgan’s courtroom when the indictment was returned. He said afterward that Simmons had been asked to approach Bargas about contributing to a book on colorful Louisiana politics.
“They wanted to get his (Bargas’) story,” House said. “We know Don Simmons is innocent of these charges. This is completely erroneous.”
House, who said Simmons had no criminal intent when he contacted Bargas, said State Police investigated the matter in 2008 and found what Bargas described “did not rise to the level of criminal activity.”
“I don’t know what changed” since then to cause a grand jury to indict Simmons, House added.
Simmons allegedly offered Bargas $50,000 if Bargas would make a sworn statement that allegations in the flier were true, said Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney for Holden.
“I understand that the defense claims that the requested affidavit was for a book that Mr. Simmons or his colleagues were writing on Louisiana politicians. First, we don’t need any more of those. Second, it has been four years since the $50,000 offer was made and there are no books. ‘War and Peace’ was likely written in less time. So much for that defense,” she said.
“Everyone knows that the $50,000 offer was to get someone to help with the campaign of the opponents of the mayor in the last election, four years ago,” Pierson added. “The indictment proves that some people are willing to go to any extreme to promote their political goals.”
According to a Police Department internal affairs report dated Aug. 12, 2008, and a State Police incident report dated Aug. 19, 2008, Bargas contacted then-Police Chief Jeff LeDuff with information relative to a possible bribe.
Simmons contacted Bargas via cellphone on Aug. 11, 2008, the reports said.
“They were willing to offer fifty thousand dollars cash, if the security person would sign an affidavit validating the flyer,” the Police Department report said.
Bargas, whose name is blacked out in the Police Department report, received two subsequent text messages from Simmons’ phone, one asking, “Can u talk 2 me?” and the other saying, “50 K That’s a lot of money.”
Simmons is referred to in the State Police report as a local attorney and not by name.
“The attorney told Bargas that there were people who would pay $50,000 to verify, through an affidavit, the information on a certain flyer that was being circulated in the Baton Rouge area,” the State Police report said.
“Bargas’ interpretation of the communications was that the attorney believed the information in the flyer was true and thought Bargas could verify the information.
“Bargas did not feel the attorney had any criminal intent. Bargas never saw an affidavit, and Bargas never asked any questions or ever made any comments about the flyer to the attorney,” the report said.
An attorney who represents former Metro Councilman Darrell Glasper and local businessman and Republican activist Scott Wilfong in separate lawsuits involving the flier, said the indictment left him with more questions than answers.
“Why is everybody and everything around this incident being investigated but not the incident itself,” asked Chris Alexander. “That is a question that begs to be answered,” Alexander said. “Why does nobody investigate the mayor? Why does he get a pass?”
In March, state District Judge William Morvant threw out Glasper’s defamation lawsuit against Holden, saying Holden had merely responded in articles published in The Advocate to the Glasper-funded flier that accused the mayor of having an extramarital affair.
Alexander said he has filed a notice of appeal in that case.
Wilfong sued the state Board of Ethics in 2011, claiming the board engaged in “malicious prosecution’’ of him for his role in the circulation of the flier. The ethics panel filed charges against Wilfong in 2009, alleging he and his companies may have violated state campaign finance law when he failed to disclose expenditures in connection with the flier.
The board later dismissed those charges after its probe showed Glasper, not Wilfong, paid for the fliers.
Alexander said the Wilfong case is pending in state District Court.