Saturday, May 02, 2009

Judge Wayne Cresap Arrested on Wire Fraud

A onetime New Orleans city attorney who came to prominence after a hard-fought, underdog election for a St. Bernard Parish judgeship in 1999, Wayne Cresap led a quiet life in a parish legendary for its political eccentricities.

He gained a reputation as a jurist who doled out hefty bonds and long jail sentences and as a friend to St. Bernard sheriff's deputies who strongly supported his only competitive election a decade ago.

But before he was vaulted into the public limelight last week after being arrested by the FBI on wire fraud charges, the 62-year-old judge had been a central figure in some of St. Bernard's most far-reaching and controversial lawsuits, court records and interviews show.

His rulings in 2002 and 2003 put him in the middle of the twisted, politically charged fight over the estimated $250 million estate left by Arlene Meraux, the heiress to St. Bernard land baron Joseph Meraux's fortune.

And his behavior at another 2002 hearing relating to a massive case brought against the state by oyster harvesters earned him a rebuke by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

"He was never one to shy away from those controversial type of cases," said longtime Chalmette lawyer John Finckbeiner Jr., who moved his practice to the French Quarter after 2005 but tries numerous cases in St. Bernard's 34th Judicial District. But as a politician, Finckbeiner said, Cresap "was never one of the big social guys."

"He would do things for the community, but he wasn't one to be running to every event and every dinner at the Chamber and the Kiwanis Club, and this fair and that fair."

Parish abuzz

News of Cresap's alleged involvement in a judicial corruption scheme with at least two unnamed lawyers has left St. Bernard's tight-knit legal community at the center of a whirlwind of rumors.

"Of course everybody's kind of shocked that it happened. That's some really strong charges, you know, not only for the judge, but also for the lawyers involved," Chalmette attorney Alan Bouterie said. "It kind of throws a cloud over every lawyer down here. If there's two lawyers out of 40 lawyers down here now practicing actively, that means there's 38 people who have a cloud over them totally unjustified."

According to an FBI affidavit, Cresap allegedly took cash for allowing inmates to be released from the St. Bernard Parish Prison without putting up money for the bond.

The two lawyers, described in the affidavit as "Lawyer A" and "Lawyer B," would take cash from the inmate's family or friends and then split the money with Cresap after the bond was converted. The two lawyers have not been arrested or named, and Cresap was released from Orleans Parish Prison on Monday night on a $100,000 signature bond -- the same type of bond he is accused of rigging for bribes.

Efforts to reach Cresap and his defense attorney, Pat Fanning, were unsuccessful.

Cresap was arrested April 24 and charged based on a criminal complaint, an unusual move. Federal authorities typically seek an indictment from a grand jury and let defendants surrender. But U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said last week that the FBI's arrest came because of concerns that Cresap might harm himself.

Cresap has not worked since April 10, when he took a leave for medical reasons. The district's other judges are handling his caseload.

Uptown upbringing

Unlike many in St. Bernard's small political sphere, Cresap was not born and bred in the suburban parish. He grew up in New Orleans, attended De La Salle High School in Uptown and worked for the city of New Orleans for years, including a stint as an assistant city attorney. He ran unsuccessfully for First City Court judge in New Orleans' Civil District Court in 1980.

Before moving to St. Bernard Parish, he raised some eyebrows in 1981 when he sued Chalmette's Mystic Krewe of Shangri-La, a women's Carnival club, claiming the organization breached a contract that would have let him reign as king during the 1982 Carnival season. He asked for $100,000 for "humiliation and embarrassment."

Judge Melvyn Perez, Cresap's predecessor in Division C, ruled in favor of the krewe. Cresap appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, which backed Perez.

Cresap went on to work as a trial lawyer in Chalmette and became active on the board of the St. Bernard chapter of the Alliance for Good Government.

His political ascendancy was aided by Sheriff Jack Stephens, who threw his support behind Cresap in a tight runoff in 1999 against St. Bernard attorney Gregory Noto. Cresap was on Stephens' payroll in the 1990s as legal counsel, and he had represented deputies in other cases as a trial lawyer in St. Bernard.

But Stephens said he supported Cresap because of a groundswell from the rank-and-file in his department.

"He was a real longshot to win; he was a newcomer to politics," Stephens said. "It was actually the deputies that advanced his candidacy, because they were loyal to him."

Cresap, a Democrat, lives in Poydras with his wife. He was re-elected without opposition in 2002 and 2009. His annual base salary, set by the Legislature for district judges across the state, is about $106,300.

Fight over fortune


For more of the story please visit:

Officer Scott Wendell Charged with Slamming Handcuffed Man's Head Against Cell Wall

A St. Paul police officer has been accused of slamming a handcuffed man's head against a cell wall during an argument over the officer's stepdaughter.

Forty-five-year-old Scott Wendell of Columbus was charged Friday with third-degree felony assault and put on paid administrative leave.

The criminal complaint says the victim was arrested on an outstanding warrant during a traffic stop. The man also did not have a valid driver's license.

The complaint says Wendell confronted the man after learning his juvenile stepdaughter was in the car during the stop. It says the man, who has not been named, suffered a 4-inch cut to his head and needed 12 stitches.

Wendell's attorney did not return calls for comment.


Deputy David Jacobs Charged with Taking Money from Man he Arrested


A former Grady County sheriff's deputy has been charged with two felony counts alleging he took money from a man he arrested.

Former Deputy David Jacobs was arraigned Thursday on charges of embezzlement by a police officer and falsifying an official record. Bond was set at $8,000.

An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation affidavit filed in the case indicates a jail security video captured Jacobs counting out money seized from the suspect and putting it in an envelope.

According to the affidavit, Jacobs told investigators he was holding $1,800 as evidence but forgot to book the money and then lost it on his way home. He told investigators he did not "intentionally steal or take any money," the affidavit states.

The affidavit indicates an envelope containing $2,000 was later found in his vehicle.

Sheriff Art Kell fired Jacobs in early March after the allegations first surfaced.

A telephone message left Friday with Jacobs' attorney, John Stuart, was not immediately returned.

Jacobs is scheduled to appear in court June 17 for a preliminary hearing conference.

"I'm tired of having to prosecute cops," said Grady County District Attorney Bret Burns. "Every time you do it affects the whole system.

"We've had to dismiss or plea bargain 20 to 30 cases Jacobs was working on because his credibility has been called into question."

Burns said he will seek prison time for Jacobs.

"I think we should hold on-duty police officers to a a higher standard," Burns said.