Attorney for Ascension Parish president says alleged bribe was a - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Attorney for Ascension Parish president says alleged bribe was a 'loan' for friend

Kenny Matassa and Olin Berthelot Kenny Matassa and Olin Berthelot
Lance Unglesby (Source: WAFB) Lance Unglesby (Source: WAFB)
Wayne Lawson (Source: WAFB) Wayne Lawson (Source: WAFB)
Source: The Pelican Post Source: The Pelican Post

Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa was simply trying to help a friend by offering him money, a job, and support in a future election. That is what his attorney, Lance Unglesby, told reporters on Wednesday when asked about bribery allegations brought against his client. 

Matassa hired Unglesby after Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson spoke to reporters about an alleged offer Matassa and businessman Olin Berthelot made for him to drop out of the race. 

RELATED: Gonzales City Council speaks about bribery allegations made against Ascension Parish president

Unglesby stated right off the bat that Matassa's offer to help Lawson was misunderstood. 

"This is not a bribe. The word bribe is being used very loosely here. This is nothing but personal advice form one friend to another," Unglesby said. 

In a series of audio recordings released on Monday by the Pelican Post online newspaper, Matassa and Berthelot offered Lawson $1,200, a parish job, and other things if he would drop out of the race for Gonzales City Council. The move would guarantee that incumbent Neal Bourque would be re-elected. 

Lawson said he was first approached by Berthelot, owner of Bayou Financial. 

Berthelot: We're going to take care of you. But we need you to drop out.
Lawson: So, you guys are asking for me to withdraw my candidacy?
Berthelot: Yes.
Lawson: What's the procedure on that? 

Lawson said Matassa also offered to back him if he wanted to run for a parish council seat in three years. 

Matassa: I don't know when it's going to happen but when Judge (Alvin) Turner retires, Travis (his son) is going to go there, and that's going to be another seat open on the parish side. 

"Mr. Matassa is encouraging this guy to get out of the election that this not in his best interest, that he has zero chance of success, that he should wait and run for an open seat," Unglesby said. 

Unglesby said Matassa was simply trying to help a friend he has helped in the past and said the money was not a bribe, but simply a loan. 

"Mr. Lawson, I think, had been down on his luck multiple times in his life and obviously friendly and charming enough to be kind to him and offer him things," Unglesby said. 

However, Lawson said that is not true. In fact, he said he recorded the conversations because he felt uneasy about it and felt he was being bribed into dropping out of the council race. 

?RELATED: AG asked to assist in bribery probe against Ascension Parish President

The Pelican Post also obtained a video of Lawson going into Bayou Financial to collect the $1,200. He said notary Christy Burnett, who is director of the parish health unit, was there to hand him the official document to withdraw his name from the race. 

Unglesby said the exchange of money and Burnett being present for the transaction was pure coincidence. Burnett said she was not on parish time and not driving her parish-issued vehicle when she went to Bayou Financial. 

Unglesby said he believes the district attorney's investigation will show the whole situation was not a bribe and was not illegal. 

"The idea that Kenny Matassa, in his mind, believed that he was bribing this man is so far from reality," Unglesby said.

Matassa released the following statement Wednesday evening: 

This week, I experienced how an act of generosity can be twisted into a conspiracy against me for electoral gain and clickbait.

I have known Wayne Lawson for over 20 years. We worked together in construction and he comes from a good family. On several occasions, I provided Mr. Lawson with small loans so he could pay his bills. Mr. Lawson never paid me back, but I considered him a friend who had fallen on hard times. Last year, I paid off a debt Mr. Lawson incurred with a local finance company.  I live my life by a moral code to share whatever blessings I have with others.

I do not know Wade Petite as well, but again I know he comes from a good family. He does have an extensive criminal record, which includes multiple arrests for simple assault, simple battery, domestic abuse battery and DWI. He was sued for legal malpractice for mishandling cases and, after an investigation; the Louisiana Supreme Court issued an order barring him from practicing law in Louisiana. Mr. Petite has an unhealthy and unnatural obsession with me, as he has been similarly obsessed with others.

The plot they hatched is an example of the politics of personal destruction. The truth is that Mr. Lawson is not an electoral threat to anyone. He has been defeated by wide margins in all five campaigns he has run since 1991. He was a friend, down on his luck, looking for work and help, in the wrong election at the wrong time. There was no bribe. There was an honest attempt to help a man out.   

I take people at face value when they give me their word, and my word is my bond. Even after his attempt to smear me in the media, I ensured Mr. Lawson was still scheduled for an interview. He did not, however, show up for the interview. Instead, he went on a media junket.  Mr. Lawson and Mr. Petite are agents of chaos. I reject the influence these negative elements have over our politics and our community.

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