GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa has pleaded not guilty to felony charges associated with an alleged election bribe.
Matassa appeared calm as he walked into court Monday morning. He and Gonzales businessman, Olin Berthelot, are accused of trying to bribe Wayne Lawson, a former candidate for Gonzales City Council, to drop out of the race. Both are charged with felony election offenses involving bribery.
Matassa's lawyer, Lewis Unglesby, says the alleged bribe was a set up by a group of people who were unhappy that Matassa was elected parish president in 2015. The allegations surfaced last August when the editor of online newspaper, Pelican Post, published a series of audio recordings in which Matassa and Berthelot could allegedly be heard offering a bribe to Lawson.
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?
Lawson: What's the procedure on that?
"No one in the history of Louisiana has been charged with this crime before. Period. This was not a police investigation. This was not an FBI investigation. This was not an investigation by the sheriff. This is some guy with another guy hooking up something to try to cause trouble with their own motives. To answer, is it politically motivated? Not by the AG [attorney general], but by the trouble makers, absolutely" said Unglesby.
Berthelot's attorney, Steven Moore, echoed that statement. Both attorneys said there is more to those recordings, but would not elaborate. They said those details will be played out in court.
Berthelot also pleaded not guilty to the charges.
"I heard the ones that certain people decided to put on social media, but I haven't heard everything," said Moore.
Assistant Attorney General for the State of Louisiana, Jeff Traylor, who is prosecuting the case, would not comment on whether there are additional recordings, but he was confident the case stands on solid ground. "We look forward to the opportunity to present this to a jury and let them decide what the facts are, but we are confident in the facts," said Traylor.
A trial date has not been set. The next hearing is scheduled for August 14.