BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A federal trial got underway Monday for the former Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol Tobacco Control.
Murphy Painter is accused using his job to do illegal background checks, computer fraud, identity theft, and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Painter walked into federal court Monday morning with a smile on his face. The Jindal administration fired the former head of ATC over three years ago, but Painter has hardly been out of the public eye. A grand jury indicted him on 42 counts felony counts surrounding allegations he ran illegal background checks and stalked hundreds of people. Painter has been to court several times on those claims but he has not gotten far.
Two years ago, the state Department of Revenue settled four lawsuits involving those claims. Attorney Jill Craft represented some of the people involved.
"What happened to each one of them was wrong, and I think it's good we finally had someone wake up and say it's bad. We need to resolve these claims," Craft said.
State investigators said Painter ran illegal searches on 1,150 people.
State Inspector General Stephen Street, who was behind a five year probe on Painter's alleged actions, told 9News in a previous interview the former Commissioner was mostly looking for personal information about females in the New Orleans, Gonzales, and Baton Rouge areas. Some included attorney Craft, former WAFB reporter Keitha Nelson, U.S. Senator David Vitter's wife, Wendy, and former LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson.
"These are innocent citizens that committed no crimes, were not under any legitimate investigation by Mr. Painter through the ATC," Street said.
Painter claims he was set up by his former employees. He said it was all a cover-up for what he called "possible corruption" by the people who sued the state. In an interview with 9News on July 5, 2011 he voiced his disagreement with the state settlement and the allegations.
"I haven't agreed to anything. I want my day in court," Murphy said.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.
If convicted, Painter could spend up to 82 years in prison and be required to pay more than $12 million in fines.
Murphy Painter is accused of performing illegal background checks on hundreds of people, mainly women. He is being represented by attorney Michael Fawer, a high-profile lawyer out of New Orleans.
Painter, 59, was indicted on computer fraud, making false statements and aggravated identity theft by a grand jury on May 23, 2012. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 13, 2012. A judge released him on his own recognizance, so he is allowed to remain free throughout the trial.
Inspector General Stephen Street said Kelli Suire claimed Painter was stalking her. He said investigators later found Painter used state and Federal Bureau of Investigations databases to get personal information about Suire and her attorney, Jill Craft.
US Attorney Don Cazayoux said if Painter is convicted of the above charges, he could face a maximum of 82 years in prison and fines up to more than $12 million.
The indictment alleges Painter made false statements to FBI agents. He is accused of using law enforcement databases for "non-official criminal justice purposes." The indictment also claims Painter exceeded his authorized access and obtained person identification information on several people throughout the area.