By Heather Miller
Robert Williamson, the “Secret Cajun Man” whose name has surfaced in a federal investigation involving 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson’s office, has a long — and rather bizarre — history with federal courts in Louisiana.
|The home of private investigator Robert Williamson at
311 Arnould Blvd. is the listed address of his PI business,
Secret Cajun Man Ltd., and the target of a Feb. 27
search by federal agents.
As The Independent reported March 7, the FBI paid a visit to private investigator Williamson’s Arnould Boulevard home the night of Feb. 27, the same day federal agents were at the district attorney’s office sifting through the desks of Barna Haynes, Harson’s longtime office administrator, and Assistant DA Gregory Williams. Sources close to the investigation tell The Ind that the inquiry involves the office’s handling of OWI cases.
Although the details of the FBI probe have not been disclosed, the wild epic of PI Williamson as told through court documents supports what several sources say is a nefarious reputation. Court records also reveal that the current investigation is not the first time Williamson has appeared on the feds’ radar.
In 1989, Williamson’s wife, Sonya, claimed she was electrocuted while turning off a light in the family’s hotel room at the Haynes Best Western in Alexandria, where the family had been living for more than a month (the name of the hotel appears to be coincidental, unrelated to Barna Haynes). The Williamsons claimed in a subsequent lawsuit against the hotel that the electrocution stemmed from a water leak in the room’s ceiling and caused Sonya to become quadriplegic.
But Williamson’s story quickly unraveled in court, and by the time the Williamsons filed the lawsuit they were already the named defendants in other civil litigation alleging a pattern of insurance fraud.
The Williamson family, according to a timeline outlined in court documents, made at least 19 injury claims against insurance companies between 1981 and 1989 — including two other electrocutions — with many of the “accidents” in question occurring just days after the Williamson family purchased excessive amounts of insurance. Payouts from the insurance companies over an eight-year period totaled at least $535,000, a figure that’s likely substantially higher because exact settlement amounts were not given for every accident listed in court documents. That’s in addition to the monthly Social Security disability benefits Robert Williamson was receiving for a mental illness while cashing in on his “accident-prone” family.
|“The jury found that Sonya was, indeed, injured in the Best Western Motel, whether by a staged electrocution gone bad or by a minor or non-existent shock followed by Robert’s administration of paralyzing drugs to make a case for quadriplegia.”|
It was also learned through court testimony that the family businesses the Williamsons owned were not viable entities, though the couple spent at least $20,000 a year buying furs, jewelry and other luxuries at an Alexandria department store and often gave $200 “tips” to the store owner in exchange for his shopping advice.
Among the lengthy list of witnesses in Sonya’s electrocution case was Sonya’s brother, Marlin Johnson, who told the court that he first heard of Sonya’s paralysis through a phone call from Robert Williamson two weeks after the alleged electrocution took place. Hotel employees testified that they saw Sonya walking, talking and driving in the days and weeks following the accident, but when Sonya’s brother arrived at the hotel to see her, “she was paralyzed and unable to speak.”
“As time passed, she became more alert, sat up in bed and her speech became less and less slurred,” court records state. “As Marlin was leaving, he saw Robert open a white package and put some powder into Sonya’s drink.
Sonya’s family remained outside for  to  minutes, and when they returned to the room, Sonya was again paralyzed, she was slouched back down in the bed, her eyes were not focused, and her speech was so slurred she could not communicate with her family.”
Adding insult to what was later deemed fraudulent injury, the couple owned a home in Alexandria during the duration of their stay at the Best Western. And in the month leading up to the accident, the family asked to switch rooms numerous times before finally settling on Room 170, the only room with a “crawl space in the ceiling that was accessible to room guests.”
In the end, the jury sided with the insurance company and ruled that the electrocution was staged. But the Williamsons’ appeals and the countersuits filed by the insurance company kept the case tied up in federal court for more than a decade.
“The jury found that Sonya was, indeed, injured in the Best Western Motel, whether by a staged electrocution gone bad or by a minor or non-existent shock followed by Robert’s administration of paralyzing drugs to make a case for quadriplegia,” the court minutes read.
The year after Sonya was allegedly electrocuted at the Best Western, Robert Williamson was acquitted on federal insurance charges, according to court documents. Four years later, he was indicted again on federal prescription fraud charges, which the U.S. attorney’s office later dismissed.
The Louisiana State Board of Private Investigator Examiners lists both Robert Williamson and Gary Williamson as licensed private eyes doing business as Secret Cajun Man Ltd. Interviewed briefly at his home the afternoon of March 6, Robert Williamson declined to comment on the FBI’s Feb. 27 search of his Arnould Boulevard home.
Independent Editorial Director Leslie Turk contributed to this report.