NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former Louisiana wildlife official who pleaded guilty to taking payoffs from a landfill owner's businesses was sentenced Wednesday to six months of home detention, a postscript for a broader case that unraveled amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
A Justice Department prosecutor recommended a four-year prison sentence for Henry Mouton, who took nearly $464,000 in bribes in exchange for trying to help eliminate business competition for the unidentified landfill owner.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, however, sentenced him to three years of probation along with home confinement. Feldman also ordered him to pay a $100,000 fine and perform 200 hours of community service. Mouton had faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2011.
Mouton, 56, apologized for his actions before Feldman sentenced him. After the hearing, he described himself as "very relieved."
"I knew when I did it I was committing a crime," he told the judge. "I made a big mistake. There's no two ways about it."
Prosecutors haven't identified the company owner accused of paying Mouton, but his indictment said he touted River Birch landfill, which is co-owned by Fred Heebe and his father-in-law, Jim Ward.
In March, prosecutors dropped an embezzlement case against River Birch executive Dominick Fazzio and his brother-in-law, Mark Titus. At the time, lawyers from the Justice Department's public integrity section said the decision was based on "evidentiary concerns and in the interests of justice."
The U.S. Attorney's office based in New Orleans stepped aside from the case last year after the resignation of veteran prosecutor Sal Perricone. He admitted he had been anonymously posting comments on a newspaper's website about judges, politicians and cases, including the River Birch landfill probe.
Heebe's lawyers, who unmasked Perricone as the author of the posts, said Justice Department officials informed them that they won't be pursuing any charges against their client.
The commenting scandal led to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's resignation in December 2012. Letten's top deputy, Jan Mann, was demoted and she retired after she also acknowledged posting anonymous comments on nola.com, The Times-Picayune's companion website.
Feldman said the alleged prosecutorial misconduct is "very troubling" but doesn't excuse Mouton's actions, which he said were "as disgusting an offense as one could imagine." Residents of the New Orleans area are "pretty much sick and tired of the corruption, wherever it occurs," the judge said.
At the start of Wednesday's hearing, Feldman pressed Justice Department prosecutor Brian Lichter to explain why the broader probe was abandoned. Lichter said there were "many factors" but didn't elaborate.
Feldman also asked Lichter why the Justice Department refused to provide court officials with a copy of a report by John Horn, a federal prosecutor from Georgia who was tapped to investigate the prosecutorial misconduct allegations. Feldman said the report could have helped him in deciding what sentence to impose in Mouton's case. Lichter said he didn't know why the report wasn't shared.
Prosecutors had agreed that Mouton deserved some leniency for cooperating with their probe. A year before his indictment, Mouton agreed to secretly tape a call with an unidentified co-conspirator.
Mouton said he was grateful that his family's support never wavered even though he placed "a lot stress on them."
He said, "You find out who your friends are when things like this happen."