Prosecution calls first witness after opening statements in Painter trial

Murphy Painter
Murphy Painter

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Opening statements got underway Wednesday morning in the federal trial of the former commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

Murphy Painter is accused using his job to do illegal background checks, computer fraud, identity theft, and lying to the FBI.

Both sides gave their opening statements, starting at 9 a.m. Once those were complete, the prosecution called its first witness to the stand. An FBI agent testified about the National Crime Information System (NCIS).

Several other witnesses were also called.  Including Shane Evans, who worked for the state Inspector General's office in 2010.  He investigated the allegations.  Evans testified that in August 2010, they received a complaint against Painter, made by a former ATC employee named Kellie Suire.

Two of the people that Painter is alleged of looking up were also questioned.  One a former friend from 30 years ago, the other, former LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson.

Prosecutors claimed Painter believed he was above the law. Using a law enforcement database to access personal information on someone, for example, women he was interested in, attorneys and former WAFB reporter, Keitha Nelson.

A video clip from an interview Painter did with WAFB was also played in court.  In the video, Painter tells then reporter David Spunt that he ran Keitha Nelson's name because he wanted to see how tall she was.  He went on to say that as a former basketball player, he was interested in the height of women.

Painter's attorney says this is a misguided and bizarre prosecution. Painter maintains his innocence and says his former employees set him up.

His attorney's also told jurors, in opening statements, that Governor Bobby Jindal had requested Painter to give them certain permits for Champion Square, in New Orleans.  They say that was the week before he was fired.  They say perhaps this investigation and termination was in part because Painter would not bend to the wishes of the Governor.

The trial continues Thursday morning.


Painter, 59, 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 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.

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