Lafayette resident and ex-state Wildlife and Fisheries commissioner pleads guilty to conspiracy to receive bribes and illegal payoffs.
[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include information about federal prosecutors pushing for Mouton to forfeit the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received as bribes.]
Former state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries commissioner Henry Mouton could spend up to five years in prison and a receive a maximum $250,000 fine after pleading guilty Wednesday afternoon to federal charges of conspiracy to receive bribes and illegal payoffs.
In his appearance before a U.S. District Court judge in New Orleans, Mouton, 54, of Lafayette, admitted to using his position as a Wildlife and Fisheries commissioner to lobby public officials statewide in an attempt to keep the Old Gentilly Landfill closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He admitted to receiving 170 checks totaling $463,970 from an unidentified “co-conspirator” in return for his efforts, which also included trying to prevent the Two Rivers Recycling Landfill from opening in Catahoula Parish.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has not yet identified the rival landowner, but court documents have linked Mouton to River Birch Landfill owner Fred Heebe. Letten said in a press conference Wednesday that no one else has been charged yet in connection with Mouton's case, also noting that his office will not confirm or deny whether target letters have been sent to Heebe or anyone else involved.
“The investigation continues … and notwithstanding any other individuals being looked at, [Mouton] admitted under oath to conspiring with another individual. Where this goes, I can't comment … but stand by,” Letten said.
As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors will drop two counts of receiving illegal payoffs, but Mouton still faces charges of setting up “straw” men to illegally contribute to the campaigns of an unidentified congressional candidate and a statewide candidate and lying to federal investigators.
Mouton has agreed to testify at any trials that could stem from the investigation and also must fully cooperate with U.S. prosecutors until Mouton's sentencing on Jan. 25, 2012. In addition to prison and fines, he also could receive up to two years of supervised release.
Prosecutors also have filed a request of forfeiture, which means Mouton could be forced to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars he received as bribes.
Wednesday marked Mouton's second appearance in federal court since he was indicted Feb. 25. He initially pleaded not guilty to the lengthy indictment, changing his plea to guilty Wednesday as part of the plea deal. The court did not reveal any additional details Wednesday on the four-page plea agreement.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said Mouton lied to the FBI at least four times, “maybe more,” and wrote 18 letters lobbying for the closure of old Gentilly while never disclosing his personal ties to the rival landfill. He also failed to report the income he received from the rival landfill over his seven-year stretch of receiving periodic checks.
“You recommended phony investigations … to benefit you and your coconspirators,” Feldman said during the hearing.
A 10-page factual basis, which would have been used as evidence against Mouton had he gone to trial, says Mouton met the rival landfill owner in 1996 while at a fundraiser for former Gov. Mike Foster. The landfill owner contacted Mouton shortly after their encounter and agreed to pay him $2,000 a month for Mouton to provide “insider political information and access to the governor.”
Foster appointed Mouton to the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission in 2003. He served until December 2008, but still received payments from the rival landfill owner until April 2010.
Mouton, who entered the courtroom with his sister and his attorney, said in court that he is currently being treated by a doctor for depression and celiac disease.
The Lafayette native and resident appeared measured before and during the arraignment, later ducking his face as he walked into the elevator to exit the courthouse.
His attorney, Mary Olive Pierson of Baton Rouge, declined further comment after the arraignment.
“I think the judge and Henry said it all,” she said.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.
With her political future in jeopardy, Sen. Mary Landrieu is turning to a natural constituent base in her re-election bid.
Terrance Broadway threw for a touchdown and rushed for 113 yards to lead Louisiana-Lafayette to a 34-10 victory over Texas State on Tuesday night.
Aligned with the party of an unpopular president, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu sought to keep her distance from the Obama administration, against claims from her chief Republican challenger Bill Cassidy that a vote to re-elect the Democratic incumbent was a vote for Barack Obama.
Seven people in Louisiana and two others in Mississippi have been arrested in connection with an international online sales scam.
Despite the hype and potential misinformation to have spread in the wake of Mark Cockerham’s recent departure from the LPSB, his candidacy for reelection is still on — now with the backing of the Chamber's Empower PAC.