Matassa grand jury hearing on bribery allegations to continue

Wayne Lawson (Source: WAFB)
Wayne Lawson (Source: WAFB)
Director of the Criminal Division for the La. Dept. of Justice Brandon Fremin (Source: WAFB)
Director of the Criminal Division for the La. Dept. of Justice Brandon Fremin (Source: WAFB)
Asst. La. Attorney General Jeff Traylor (Source: WAFB)
Asst. La. Attorney General Jeff Traylor (Source: WAFB)

ASCENSION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Monday brought another setback in the grand jury hearing involving bribery allegations brought against Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa. At least one witness called to testify before the parish grand jury said he was turned away.

Matassa is accused of offering former candidate for Gonzales City Council, Wayne Lawson, cash, a job, and future backing in a parish election if he would d rop out of the race. State investigators walked into the Ascension Parish Courthouse in Gonzales for what was supposed to be the first day of a grand jury hearing involving Matassa. Assistant Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Traylor walked in with a crate full of documents in tow.

"It just seems to be no sense of urgency at all," Wade Petite said.

Wade Petite, who is the owner and editor of the Pelican Post online newspaper, first published audio recordings in which Matassa and local businessman, Olin Berthelot, could be heard offering the alleged bribe to Lawson.

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."

Matassa claims it was not a bribe, rather that he was simply offering to help a friend. Petite said the recordings speak for themselves. "Everybody's heard the best evidence against Kenny Matassa and Olin Berthelot. It came out of their own mouths," Petite said.

Petite did not get to testify Monday, but Lawson and an investigator for the state, Ike Vavasseur, were both inside the courthouse for at least three hours. Neither would comment on the day's proceedings.

"I cannot discuss any of the particulars regarding what has just transpired in the courtroom," Lawson said.

Director of the Criminal Division of the Louisiana Department of Justice, Brandon Fremin, would not answer whether Lawson or anyone else had been called to testify, but he did confirm that the hearing was broken into two parts and that others would be called to the stand.

"It's dictated by the evidence, and dictated sometimes by our view of the evidence and how we think it should go," Fremin said.

Petite fears prosecutors are dragging their feet through the process. "One way or another, I think the people of Ascension have waited long enough. I think they are entitled to that decision," Petite said.

The grand jury is set to pick up the case again on March 10. Prosecutors would not say whether it will conclude on that day.

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