For months after the FBI’s search of his office last spring, 15th Judicial District Attorney Don Landry kept the workspace of a top aide wrapped up in the investigation waiting — despite the growing staff’s need for additional space in the cramped Downtown quarters.
At some point in recent months, Landry seemed to realize that Gary Haynes, the assistant prosecutor he brought back into the office after his predecessor moved him out, would not be coming back. A new assistant is warming the seat in Haynes’s office on the sixth floor of the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.
In mid-April the feds implicated Haynes, without naming him, in a bribery conspiracy involving a district attorney’s program intended for nonviolent first offenders as an alternative to the traditional court system.
A longtime city prosecutor who ran a private practice out of his Downtown office, Haynes has for decades had an uncanny ability to bring together money, people and power on campaigns.
The crimes alleged of Public Official 1, “an employee and agent of the District Attorney’s Office” are detailed in a plea agreement for Dusty Guidry, a former contract employee with the office. Guidry acknowledged receiving more than $825,000 in kickbacks over a 16-month period from various vendors serving the pretrial intervention program and from other programs run through the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, where Guidry was a commissioner. Secretary of LDWF, Jack Montoucet, likely the person identified as PO-2 in court filings, resigned within days of Guidry’s plea deal being made public.
The feds do not say how much money they believe PO-1 took in as part of the conspiracy.
Guidry’s plea agreement was signed by two trial lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, including Rosaleen T. O’Gara, whose recent experience prosecuting public officials includes a 2022 case that led to the conviction of a former HUD inspector general for trading government contracts for money and another public bribery case that played out over several years in Florida and resulted in the conviction of a city commissioner and two other defendants.
This latest public bribery scandal conjures images of a similar bribery scheme centered around OWIs a decade ago involving the administration of then-District Attorney Mike Harson in which Haynes’s wife, Harson’s secretary, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. The FBI’s 2022 raid of the DA’s office was yet another devastating embarrassment for the well-regarded assistant prosecutors who work at the office. And this time the pattern appears to have been repeated with more breadth and sophistication — and a whole lot more money. Haynes’s wife, Barna Dupuis Haynes, got upwards of $55,000 over a four-year period, and her co-conspirator, the late Robert Williamson, pleaded guilty to taking $443,000. Gary Haynes himself once represented Williamson in a fraudulent personal injury case in the early 2000s.
The sitting district attorney has no one to blame but himself for the new black eye on his office, say lawyers and former prosecutors interviewed for this story.
“When I heard Gary was campaigning with him, I heard it before I saw it, I thought what the heck. You have [Gary] trying to re-establish himself in the criminal justice system after everyone believed he was involved in a crime,” says one former prosecutor from the 15th district. “It was mind-blowing at best.”
Read more on the DA Bribery investigation
A decade after a bribery scandal roiled the district attorney’s office, federal prosecutors began laying out a similar but more sophisticated kickback scheme.
Don Landry has demurred as a potential public corruption scandal brews, even as he placed on leave a prosecutor linked to the investigation.
Other close observers say illegal activity at the district attorney’s office has widespread ramifications for the legal, political and criminal justice systems in the district. “It feels like in almost every aspect of this government, from the DA’s office to LCG, if you pay to play you’re in the game, but if you don’t have money you get screwed,” says one member of the local law enforcement community. “So it’s kind of like, what’s the point of doing the damn job?”
Ten local attorneys, including five former prosecutors, and others interviewed by The Current declined to comment on the record about Landry, most due to their friendship with him or because they have (and will have) cases with his office.
But all of those interviewed agree that what’s deserving of attention and scrutiny in this latest public corruption case is the fact that Landry himself was a prosecutor under Harson and was a first-hand witness to the scandal that consumed the office and cost Harson his attempt at a fifth term in 2014. Harson, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Keith Stutes, his lead felony prosecutor who took it upon himself to launch an internal investigation while still working for Harson and left the office shortly after. Stutes, who did not keep holdovers Landry and Haynes (at the time Haynes was an ADA prosecuting cases in City Court) on his payroll after winning the seat, decided not to seek re-election after one six-year term. Stutes won with 53 percent of the vote, having garnered strong bipartisan support, including that of two former U.S. attorneys, Democrat Mike Skinner and Republican Don Washington.
Landry’s entry into the 2020 election, however, largely represented a return to the Harson era, which was in some ways an extension of the Nathan Stansbury administration. Stansbury, unlike his successor, ran his office with an iron fist; local politicos say much of the credit for office discipline belonged to Stansbury’s longtime secretary, the late Joan Slaughter. Harson was appointed DA in December 1993 after Stansbury became ill and retired. Toward the end of his career, Harson was known to be more of a golfer than an administrator, and the secretary he left in charge didn’t run as tight a ship.
In all, the Republican Landry, primarily a misdemeanor prosecutor, spent 34 years of his professional career under Stansbury and Harson. Keith Stutes’s six-year term (2015-2020) interrupted a power structure that had held since at least the 1970s. And while Stutes had spent 28 years as an ADA, the hard-nosed prosecutor-turned-DA was beholden to no one.
By January of 2021 the establishment was back.
“Even though the names change, it pretty much seems like it’s the same power structure,” says Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins. “And I understand there are warring factions within that power structure, but it’s basically the same power structure that has run the parish for many years.”
Both Harson and Gary Haynes were investigated a decade ago but not prosecuted in a scandal that netted multiple convictions within the office; Stutes’s investigative report led to more state charges from the attorney general’s office in 2016.
“The voters of the parish seem to have somewhat of a tolerance for a low level of corruption, because so much of it has gone on in the past. That’s not unique to [the 15th Judicial District]. That goes on all over the state,” says Collins, who grew up in New Orleans and has family ties in the Carencro area.
Landry kept Haynes close to him despite repeated warnings during his 2020 campaign that he should distance himself from Haynes — and even after his election when some staff in his office expressed reservations about Haynes.
Instead, Landry put him singularly in charge of administering a program easy to manipulate and corrupt and failed to put safeguards in place or exercise any oversight, according to those with knowledge of the program. After Guidry’s guilty plea, Landry said in a statement that safeguards had been added “to prevent anything like this from taking place again.” Landry also neglected to diligently review at least one expungement last year that he signed on behalf of a client represented by Mayor-President Josh Guillory. Unlike Stutes, who personally held oversight and had multiple vendors defendants could choose from for each service in the pretrial intervention program, Haynes implemented a program that had only four vendors, Landry confirmed to The Acadiana Advocate last year. All four are implicated in Guidry’s guilty plea. Read more about them here.
Former employees and others familiar with the office environment say there was ongoing friction and competition between Haynes and another assistant district attorney, Fritz Welter, in part over who Landry would name as his first assistant, typically a second-in-command position. An undated, handwritten note Landry turned over to The Current in June confirms the district attorney’s intention to name Welter to the position “in the event of my incapacity or inability to serve as district attorney.” Landry said he wrote the note in the spring of 2021. His predecessor, in contrast, officially swore in Danny Landry as his first assistant, and the paperwork was filed into the district court record. Don Landry defeated fellow Republican Danny Landry for district attorney in the fall of 2020.
Welter declined to comment beyond confirming Landry’s intent to name him first assistant, citing the federal investigation.
In announcing Guidry’s guilty plea, federal investigators say they believe the corruption scheme commenced around the time Landry took over the office in January 2021.
Last fall The Daily Advertiser’s Andrew Capps (now on staff at The Current) reported that wiretaps, much like the ones used a decade earlier to investigate Harson’s office, preceded the May 2022 raid. A federal judge in Lafayette authorized four months of surveillance on an undisclosed cell phone in August 2021, just eight months into Landry’s tenure, for a racketeering investigation, which the paper’s research found to be a seldom-used justification. The vast majority of wiretap approvals in the Western District Court, which includes Lafayette, last for just 30 days (which means this one was renewed by the judge three times) and are almost exclusively for narcotics investigations, the paper reported.
That same August day, the judge authorized another wiretap for a narcotics investigation which similarly ended after four months — around the time of Guidry’s arrest.
Landry has declined to comment on his relationship with Haynes, telling The Current last year and again this year that he would not comment beyond his written statements due to the federal investigation. A source with knowledge of FBI activity says there are indications as recently as this week that the investigation into the PTI program is ongoing.
Gary Haynes did not return a phone call and text messages seeking comment and confirmation that he is PO-1. It is unclear when federal prosecutors will identify PO-1, and what charges he will face. On each of counts one and three, conspiracy to commit an offense, Guidry faces a maximum sentence of up to five years. On count two, bribery, he faces up to 10 years.
After the FBI came calling last year, Landry sought to downplay the probe, issuing a statement saying increased enrollment in the program is what got the feds’ attention. “We have put significant effort into improving our Pretrial lntervention Program, and the numbers of enrollees in that program has increased. That has allowed our Pretrial lntervention Program to help more people than in prior years,” Landry said at the time.
The program’s growth may well have been a welcome change in policy. Some attorneys interviewed for this story criticized access to Stutes’s program as too restrictive and onerous.
Still, Landry did not move to immediately place Haynes on leave. Even more confounding, however, had been his decision in late 2021 to keep Dusty Guidry on as a contract employee after Guidry was arrested on multiple felony drug counts in St. Martin Parish (the East Baton Rouge DA immediately cut ties with him). Only after the FBI raid did Landry suspend Guidry’s contract. Guidry has not yet been formally charged in the drug case. When ADA Chris Richard was arrested in 2021 by wildlife and fisheries and charged with felony hit and run, careless operation of a vessel and negligent injury, Landry didn’t suspend him. Richard remains on the payroll to this day; his trial is set for Sept. 25.
“If you’re an elected official, especially with [Gary’s] wife having gone to federal prison, I don’t know why you would want [Gary] anywhere in the vicinity of your office, much less working for you. … It’s like you’re asking for a federal investigation to be opened.”Dillard University political analyst Robert Collins
Landry appears to have calculated that he needed Haynes’s support and connections to get elected, those interviewed for this story surmise.
“Gary has a lot of big money people behind him,” says the former assistant district attorney who spoke on condition of anonymity, noting it as the primary reason Haynes was able to hold onto to his position as city prosecutor (a post traditionally umbrellaed under the DA until severed by Stutes) through turnovers in administrations. By contrast, Mayor-President Josh Guillory immediately moved to place Haynes on administrative leave without pay while Landry stalled on what he would do.
The irony of the decision to bring Haynes back into the office isn’t lost on Collins, who says Landry invited the return of federal scrutiny.
“If you’re an elected official, especially with [Gary’s] wife having gone to federal prison, I don’t know why you would want [Gary] anywhere in the vicinity of your office, much less working for you, knowing he’s probably going to draw the attention of the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office,” Collins says. “It’s like you’re asking for a federal investigation to be opened.”
The scheme feds now say happened on Landry’s watch — there is thus far no indication on whether he has been implicated — could have easily been avoided. Why Landry kept Haynes’s office waiting for his return has become the subject of much conjecture among area attorneys in the past year.
Whether Landry, who is in his mid-70s and still has more than three years left on his term, will be held accountable for the scheme that unfolded under his roof is yet to be determined. Landry has been meeting with a criminal defense attorney, according to calendar entries obtained through a public records request. Neither Landry nor the attorney, Jerry Block, would confirm that Landry has retained counsel formally.
Collins warns that there is a lot on the line for Lafayette if it doesn’t start electing leaders who avoid not just impropriety but also the appearance of impropriety. “It hurts the business structure of that parish because investors don’t really want to move into a parish and invest money to open up businesses if they think the parish is corrupt. We’ve seen that problem in New Orleans for a long time,” Collins says.
“If you don’t do it, the feds will just come in and do it for you.”