A decade after an OWI bribery scandal rocked the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s office, costing District Attorney Mike Harson his re-election bid in 2014, the feds came calling again. Monday afternoon federal agents raided the district attorney’s office and left late that night with rolling cases full of records.
And like his former boss Harson, DA Don Landry has demurred as a potential public corruption scandal brews, even as he placed a prosecutor linked to the investigation on leave Wednesday afternoon.
A day after the FBI and Justice Department showed up at his office Monday, Landry issued a statement confirming that investigators’ interest concerned his office’s pretrial intervention program, suggesting that increased enrollment in the program is what got the feds’ attention. Until Wednesday, Gary Haynes, one of Landry’s top lieutenants and lead over that program, remained on the district attorney’s payroll despite LCG moving swiftly to suspend him as city prosecutor, citing “an investigation by an entity other than Lafayette Consolidated Government.”
The pretrial diversion program provides qualifying non-violent first offenders an alternate route to conviction. It uses private contractors to help manage community service, treatment and social services.
Landry’s sole commitment as of Wednesday morning was to hire an auditor, parallel to the federal investigation, to probe whether the diversion program’s internal “procedures and safeguards were complied with.” And he implied in a phone interview Wednesday morning that he’d yet to make a decision about Haynes’ future with the office.
In 2015, Haynes’ wife Barna, Harson’s longtime secretary, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for her role in the OWI scheme. Harson allowed those convicted in the massive pay-for-plea conspiracy to train their replacements and sent Gary Haynes to court to prosecute OWIs days after his wife admitted to taking bribes to make OWIs go away. Neither Gary Haynes nor Harson were charged.
Haynes does double duty as Lafayette city prosecutor, a contract position. He was suspended by the Guillory administration Tuesday pending the outcome of the investigation and is no longer collecting the $65,000 he was paid annually for that job, which had him in charge of misdemeanor OWI and traffic cases, as well as pretrial diversion. LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle declined to comment on whether LCG believes Haynes is a target of the federal investigation.
The FBI has a longstanding policy that it does not comment on ongoing investigations.
“I can’t comment on that just yet,” Landry said in a Wednesday morning interview, responding to questions from The Current about Haynes’ status and punting any decision until later in the week.
Sources close to the DA’s office confirmed that Landry’s failure to act swiftly and publicly to remove Haynes was not sitting well with fellow assistants. And by Wednesday afternoon, Landry had switched gears, telling The Acadiana Advocate’s Claire Taylor that he had put Haynes on administrative leave without pay. Haynes’ salary at the DA’s office is $93,000, according to an emailed response from Landry Thursday.
The campaign for DA in 2020 was Landry’s opportunity to return to the DA’s office, just as it was Haynes’. Neither was kept on after Keith Stutes defeated Harson in 2014. The two often campaigned together even as Landry was repeatedly warned by supporters that Haynes could be a liability because of his proximity to the OWI bribery scandal.
“I’m not commenting any more than what I said in the press release,” Landry said when asked about those warnings Wednesday.
Landry has shown similar reluctance to act on other employees in legal trouble. When ADA Chris Richard was arrested last summer by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and charged with felony hit and run, careless operation of a vessel and negligent injury, Landry kept him on. When Dusty Guidry, a consultant for the pretrial program who works closely with Haynes, was arrested in St. Martin Parish in December on drug charges (manufacture, possession with intent to distribute, transactions involving proceeds from drug offenses), Landry didn’t sever ties. In contrast, District Attorney Hillar Moore of 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge immediately distanced himself from Guidry, who was employed by his office.
“That is not correct,” Landry said in response to this reporter’s questions about his decision to continue working with Guidry after his arrest. “We suspended the contract,” Landry added, acknowledging in a followup that the action wasn’t taken till after federal investigators arrived at his offices with pizza boxes and water.