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.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, April 17, 2014:
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.
The Appropriations Committee held public testimony day, letting people talk about what they like or don't like about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Lafayette police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old woman whose body was found early Sunday in a drainage ditch in Girard Park.
Former Grant parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley says he's running for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Vance McAllister of Swartz.
Louisiana-Lafayette got strong starting pitching and timely hitting to hold off Arkansas-Little Rock 6-3 in Sun Belt Conference baseball in Lafayette, La.
Chris Williams knows how to pilfer from the public coffers, this time with a back-pay lawsuit filed three years ago against the Lafayette Housing Authority, which netted the former city-parish councilman a cool five figures.
McAllister's office vowed that he intended to stay in office — for now. As for questions about whether he would stand for re-election in November, those were dodged.
The Green Army's Lafayette brigade has announced it will pay a visit Friday morning to Sen. Page Cortez to urge him to vote against Sen. Robert Adley's SB 553, which the group is calling the "Big Oil Bailout Bill of 2014."