[Update: Barna Haynes pleaded guilty Jan. 14 to a single count bill of information charging her with accepting bribes from an individual identified only as "co-conspirator #1." Read the story here.]
Three members of Lafayette private investigator Robert T. Williamson's family, including his wife Sonya, filed a petition for interdiction on Dec. 10, citing his mental incompetence to handle his affairs. Williamson’s family, at his request, is asking for power of attorney and to be appointed his curator because he suffers from schizoaffective disorder and bipolar type, “a severe and debilitating mental infirmity,” and has recently suffered mini strokes.
|PI Robert Williamson's Arnould Boulevard home was searched by the feds Feb. 27, the same day they sifted through files in the DA's office. Williamson and his family claim in court documents that he suffers from mental illness and is no longer able to handle his affairs.|
IND Monthly broke the story on the feds’ search of Williamson’s 311 Arnould Boulevard home on Feb. 27, the same day they searched the offices of District Attorney Mike Harson’s longtime office administrator, Barna Haynes, and Assistant District Attorney Greg Williams. Williams prosecutes traffic cases, including OWIs, which are believed to be at the center of the federal bribery probe.
Haynes, Harson’s office administrator for more than three decades (she also worked for him before he was DA), was placed on unpaid leave after the feds searched her office and resigned Aug. 28.
Williamson ran a private eye consulting business by the name of Secret Cajun Man. His only known connection to Haynes is that he provided consulting services to OWI offenders — which is what Williamson told IND Monthly in March was the nature of his courthouse business — and Barna was Harson’s gatekeeper, handling all communication and meetings between Harson and those charged with OWI. Williamson was so often seen in and around Haynes’ office that many people believed him to be an investigator for the DA’s office — because he acted like one. (Harson told IND Monthly early last year that Williamson was not paid by the DA’s office for any services.)
While he was clearly assisting clients in OWI cases, Williamson is not an attorney.
|Robert T. Williamson, aka, Secret Cajun Man|
But, again, he certainly acted like one. When court was in session, Williamson was a regular on the 4th floor of the parish courthouse, where criminal cases are heard. “Robert Williamson was seen many times in both the Lafayette Parish courthouse and city court, not only in the halls but in the courtroom,” says one source who asked not to be identified. That source says Williamson even managed to place himself in areas where only lawyers should be present. “He was acting in the capacity of a lawyer. He was trying to provide legal services, and, in fact, he did.”
If Williamson is indeed as incompetent as he and his family make him out to be, it makes one wonder how he could have hung around the DA’s office and local courthouses for more than two years — and how he became so chummy with Haynes and other local lawyers.
Some of the others targeted by the federal investigation have been offered plea deals, but authorities are not negotiating with Williamson, according to his criminal defense attorney, J. Michael Small of Alexandria. Small says the feds have not offered his client a plea deal.
No one has been charged in the case (at least there has been no public disclosure of charges).
An investigation into Williamson's past by IND Monthly for the March 2012 story, “Not So Secret Cajun Man,” found a trail of court records revealing that the current investigation is not the first time Williamson has appeared on the feds’ radar.
The family tells quite a story in the most recent court filing. Joining Sonya Williamson in the petition are daughters Jolie Williamson, who also lives at 311 Arnould Boulevard, and Dixie Lain Hundley (son Abner Williamson, a state trooper, is not a petitioner).
According to the family, Robert Williamson’s mental problems stem from a Jan. 12, 1976, incident in which he was attacked and nearly killed by a group of union teamsters. Since that time, he has allegedly been under the care of psychoanalysts and for the past 25 years and saw Dr. David W. Craft, a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder and bipolar type. They say the mini strokes he suffered recently have caused numbness, partial vision loss, memory loss and impaired motor skills.
When Williamson asked to be interdicted, Craft referred him to Dr. Sandra Friedberg, a clinical neuropsychologist, for evaluation on May 16, 21, and 22 of last year. The family says she found him to have impairment “in all areas of cognitive functioning and has pseudodementia with predominant and newly exacerbated delusions of persecution.”
The entire interdiction file was initially sealed, an apparent mistake in the paperwork by District Judge Trahan, and was obtained by IND Monthly after a public records request. Williamson’s medical records and the doctors’ reports remain under seal.
The family is seeking a full interdiction because of his declining mental health. “A limited interdiction would be inappropriate,” they write, “because the curator needs to make medical decisions, including whether the Defendant should be admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care.”
It’s difficult — Ok, impossible — to overlook the irony of the current state of the Williamson family. Since 1989, if you believe Robert Williamson, he’s the one who has had to care for his ailing wife, whom he says was electrocuted at a hotel in Alexandria.
It's been a wild court ride for the Williamson family, Robert Williamson in particular.
Williamson contends that in 1989 Sonya 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 lawsuit against the hotel that the electrocution stemmed from a water leak in the room’s ceiling and caused Sonya to become quadriplegic.
IND Monthly’s Heather Miller (who has since moved on the greener pastures) reported in March:
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.On Monday, Small told IND Monthly he could not comment on the interdiction because he had not seen it. Williamson hired another attorney, Peter Piccione, to represent him in this matter.
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. 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.