U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley announced at an 11 a.m. press conference Monday that Barna Haynes, 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson’s former longtime office administrator and secretary, pleaded guilty today in open court to a single count bill of information charging her with conspiracy to accept bribes. Haynes, 58, faces up to five years in prison.

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U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley announced Monday that D.A. Mike Harson's longtime secretary pleaded guilty to accepting bribes over the past four years to help defendants secure favorable outcomes in misdemeanor and felony prosecutions, including drug cases and OWIs. To Finley's immediate left is Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke Walker, along with FBI agent Doug Herman, and AUSA Richard Willis.

Finley says from about March 2008 to February 2012, Haynes accepted bribes from a co-conspirator (identified in court documents as co-conspirator #1) in return for her assistance in securing favorable outcomes in misdemeanor and felony cases in the district. Those cases involved a variety of crimes, most of which were OWIs. Finley says Haynes also accepted bribes in drug cases.

IND Monthly believes the uncharged co-conspirator in the bill of information is local private investigator Robert Williamson. Finley would not comment on the person’s identity but says the cases were for the co-conspirator’s “clients" (her emphasis) and also states that the co-conspirator has never been licensed to practice law. Haynes, according to Finley, knew the co-conspirator was not a lawyer. Courthouse sources tell IND Monthly Williamson, who was not an attorney, often acted in the capacity of one.

Finley also notes that the co-conspirator paid bribes of cash and other "things of value" to "personnel" in the DA's office (possibly indicating others were bribed) and to employees associated with the OWI program in the 15th JDC. Read more about Williamson here.

Haynes, who admitted to taking $55,000 in bribes — $500 for each case, the feds say — faces a prison term of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both, and a term of supervised release of not more than three years following confinement. Finley contends she took more than $70,000 in bribes.

Whether she will do time is up to the probation officer, who will assess the case and make a recommendation to the judge, who ultimately makes the decision on sentencing. The judge does not have to follow the federal guidelines, as they are not mandatory.

The FBI has been investigating the case for about two years, lead agent Doug Herman confirms. It is unclear whether the case started as a bribery investigation, as Herman would not disclose what led to the inquiry. The investigation first came to light in February 2012 when the feds searched Haynes office and Williamson's home. (The searches took place on Feb. 27, the same day the feds accuse Haynes of accepting one of the bribes). Haynes was placed on unpaid administrative leave after the search and resigned in August.

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Photos by Patrick Flanagan
Louisiana Western District U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley

Citing a “lack of oversight and safeguards” in the DA's office, Finley says Haynes began placing OWI cases of the co-conspirator’s “clients” in the “immediate 894 process” without the DA’s knowledge and approval. The DA’s office established the immediate 894 pleas on OWI cases, and in order to qualify charged individuals had to provide proof at the time of the plea that they had completed all legal prerequisities, including community service through Acadiana Outreach (some of which records show was done before the person was even arrested), a substance abuse program and a driver safety program. Finley says Haynes would coordinate the scheduling and execution of special immediate 894 sessions with the district court judge and the assigned assistant district attorney. Greg Williams is the assistant DA in charge of traffic prosecutions, which includes OWIs; his office was searched along with Haynes' in February of last year.

IND Monthly sources say Williams and his secretary, Denease Curry, will also plead guilty in the case. Read more here.

Haynes also prepared the expungement paperwork associated with the co-conspirator's "clients" and was paid $500 per case. Following the entry of the immediate 894 plea, the judge would grant the 894 motion dismissing the conviction, which served as an acquittal, and the defendant could instantly reinstate his driving privileges. The U.S. Attorney says Haynes’ and the co-conspirator’s actions “amounted to the selling of immediate 894 pleas.”

As part of the plea agreement signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Hanna, Haynes promises to cooperate with the investigation and any other criminal matter for which she has any knowledge. She will also testify before a grand jury or at trial if asked to; if she makes any false statements or misrepresents her role in the bribery scheme, the plea agreement can be withdrawn. Federal Judge Elizabeth Foote is the trial judge.

Finley confirms there are more co-conspirators in the case and that additional guilty pleas are expected but would release no specifics.

Private investigator Williamson's attorney, J. Michael Small of Alexandria, told IND Monthly last week that his client has not been offered a plea deal.

Asked whether the case has gone before a grand jury, Finley said "not in terms of charges."

Check back with IND Monthly later Monday and Tuesday for more updates on this story.

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