ASCENSION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - 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.
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.
Lawson said Matassa also offered to back him if he wanted to run for a parish council seat in three years.
"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.
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: