La. DA uses program to fund his foundation - Part 7

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This is part 8 in a multi-part series about questionable behavior in Calcasieu Parish, reprinted from The Washington Post. The L.A.C.E. program is statewide and has been criticized and found to have many issues all across the state.

But Langley doesn’t appear to have the connections to Bryant that he has with DeRosier. A search of campaign finance records reveals no donations by Langley to Bryant’s campaign, and no expenditures by Bryant’s campaign to Langley’s firm.

I asked DeRosier if given all of this, Langley should be doing the public audit for his office. He replied, “I don’t see a conflict.” Langley also said he sees no conflict.

The DA’s defense

In our phone call, DeRosier said he was certain that judges in Calcasieu Parish are aware of what he is doing. “I’m assuming that only because it’s not a secret,” he said. Under Louisiana legal ethics guidelines, judges are strongly discouraged from speaking to the media. But several people I spoke with, including two former Louisiana prosecutors and two current public defenders, say they’d be shocked if judges had approved of the option to buy out community service, especially for misdemeanor probation.

“Misdemeanor probation is a court-ordered sentence,” one former Calcasieu Parish prosecutor said. “A district attorney cannot unilaterally alter the community service portion of that sentence in exchange for a donation to his slush fund. When the judges hear about this, they’ll be livid.”

DeRosier also told me that he ran the idea for his nonprofit by Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street, implying that Street gave approval for the idea. “I visited with the legislative auditor and the bar association, and both referred me to the state inspector general,” DeRosier said. “We went and met with him and explained the whole program to him. That’s about the time I formed the foundation.”

But in an email, Street was emphatic that this was not the case. “OIG has no legal authority to approve or disapprove of the non-profit activities described,” he wrote. ”I have not reviewed, nor am I familiar with the specifics of this foundation or its activities, and therefore did not give any permission, approval or disapproval for its establishment, funding and operations.”

DeRosier also repeatedly told me he wanted to be completely open and transparent, and said I was welcome to return to Lake Charles to view any documents I wished. But when I asked for a couple of specific documents, the conversation could get confusing.

For example, according to Jenny Odom, McKenzie Newman and two other former employees of the DA’s office, there should be boxes of receipt books in which defendants’ gift cards and money orders were recorded, dating back at least to 2011. But when I made a public records request for a copy of these books, DeRosier’s public records custodian wrote, “no such item exists.”

“Multiple receipt books definitely existed as of July 17, the day I left,” Newman says.” I personally helped pack some into boxes. I remember at least three boxes, and there must have been 100 or so receipt books in each box. If those books no longer exist, it’s because they got rid of them after they received your request.”

Odom agreed. “There should be receipt books,” she says. “Lots of them. They’re either lying to you, or they’ve done something with them.”

Radley Balko blogs and reports on criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He was previously a senior writer and investigative reporter at the Huffington Post, and a reporter and senior editor for Reason magazine.