ASCENSION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Hundreds of pages of police and prosecution interviews related to the bribery cases against Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and a Gonzales businessman shed new light on a complicated web of alleged secret political backroom deals.
The documents, obtained exclusively by the 9NEWS Investigators, drop the names of some of the parish's most powerful politicians, accusing them of regularly working to get support for the people they handpick for elected office.
The documents include transcripts of nearly a dozen interviews conducted mainly between two people from the Louisiana Attorney General's office and a Captain from the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office. Also included in the newly obtained documents are photographs and lengthy phone records.
The case centers around Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot. The two are accused of offering a cash bribe and a parish job to Gonzales city council District E candidate Wayne Lawson last year in exchange for Lawson agreeing to drop out of the race. Both men were indicted last March and have maintained their innocence as they await trial. Trial dates have not been set.
Lawson remained in the race but lost the election to incumbent Neal Bourque.
The prosecution interviews, gathered as part of the indictment process against Matassa and Berthelot, focus heavily on secretly recorded conversations between Lawson, Matassa and Berthelot. Lawson had a hidden recorder when he met with the two others to allegedly discuss the details in July of 2016.
The recordings were first published by the online newspaper The Pelican Post and its publisher Wade Petite.
The newly obtained documents detail that Wade Petite gave Lawson a $1,000 cash loan during the same timeframe of the recordings. Petite said this week that he borrowed the money from his friend Dustin Clouatre in order to then loan the money to Lawson. Petite says, a few days later, he also personally loaned Lawson $200 in cash to help Lawson pay a bill. Petite said this week that Lawson has never paid back any of the money.
The documents also include testimony from one of Berthelot's coworkers that he allegedly had her cash a check for $900.00 and bring it to his office.
During the course of their questioning, investigators, seemingly frustrated with various slow and conflicting responses from Lawson, questioned him about whether he was on any medications. Lawson told them he had taken both Xanax and Hydrocodone, according to the records.
One witness, an expert on audio recordings, analyzed the secret recordings and said that he found them to be legitimate recordings with no signs of any edits being made, according to the documents.
Records show a forensic analysis was done of Neal Bourque's cellular phone. "During the course of that examination, it appeared that call logs and SMS/text messages prior to August 2, 2016 had been selectively deleted," the records say. The investigator concluded that Bourque's phone was not backed up to the I-Cloud and, therefore, no relevant data could be recovered.
Records also show multiple phone calls between Lawson and Berthelot, Lawson and Matassa, and Lawson and Petite during the time frame of the alleged bribes.
Here is a recap of each of the witnesses interviewed:
WAYNE LAWSON INTERVIEW
8/11/2016 - Lawson is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Lawson says he was seeking a seat on the city council. He qualified and submitted paperwork through the Clerk of Court's office.
He tells investigators that he has known Wade Petite for years.
Lawson says he got a phone call from Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot who told him "that he had a job interview for me and a job opportunity and he and Kenny (Parish President Kenny Matassa) would like for me to meet with him at his office."
Lawson says he then told Petite about the phone call because Lawson says "Mister Berthelot and Mister Matassa are very good friends and I know they work pretty much hand and glove." Lawson says Berthelot was "very instrumental" in Matassa's campaign for parish president and he had come to the conclusion that the upcoming meeting "was more than just a job opportunity" so he consulted with Petite about how to handle the matter. "I was very suspicious," Lawson told investigators.
Lawson says he was curious why, if everything was legitimate, he was being asked to meet at Berthelot's private business office and not at a parish office such as Matassa's.
Lawson says, during the meeting, he was offered a parish job under the condition that he signed an affidavit to drop out of the City Council race for Division E against incumbent Neal Bourque.
Lawson says he told Petite he was going to go into the meeting with a recording device "just in case something transpires other than, mmm, what my initial purpose for going there."
Lawson says Petite and a man named Dustin Clouatre gave him a recording device to use. Clouatre occasionally works for Petite. Lawson says he used both his personal cell phone and the recording device that was provided to him to record the meeting.
Lawson says while he went into the meeting at Berthelot's loan office in Gonzales, Petite and Clouatre waited outside. "Wade was sitting in the parking lot and Dustin was, ah, across the street."
Lawson says Berthelot was already there when he arrived and Matassa arrived a few minutes later. He says that the men told him they could get him a job with Ascension Parish government operating "one of the little dump trucks or something" and that he could be hired that same day and become a fully-vested employee of the parish. But he says he was told, in order for that to happen he had to sign an affidavit dropping out of the council race against Neal Bourque.
Lawson says he told the men he wanted to discuss the situation with his wife and agreed to meet back with them at a later date. He says the men agreed to pay him back for the $150 it cost him to qualify for the election.
Lawson says he gave the recordings to Petite because Petite is a reporter and he wanted Petite to "expose the way politics and corruption is being done here in Ascension Parish."
Lawson initially told investigators that Petite did not pay him and he did not sell the recording to him. Investigators asked Lawson multiple times if he received any sort of payment from Petite in which Lawson repeatedly replied saying "not that I can recall."
Lawson says he called Matassa a few days later to discuss the situation and, he says, they discussed work that Lawson needed done on a trailer that Lawson planned to turn into a food truck. He says Matassa asked him how much repairs would cost on the trailer and Lawson told him it would be about $1,200. Lawson says Ascension Parish employee Barney Capone was then sent out to take a look at the trailer. He says he later got a call from Berthelot saying that he was in Florida but that Lawson could stop by Berthelot's office and "pick up the $1,200" and the job application. Lawson told investigators he does not have a recording of that phone call.
Lawson says, days later, he went to Berthelot's office and a young lady there gave him an envelope containing $900. He says when he questioned her about where the rest of the money was, the woman says she called Berthelot and Berthelot instructed her to give Lawson the rest of the money.
Investigators asked Lawson if he ever considered the money that was given to him to repair his trailer to be a "loan" and he said no. He said he was given cash in a banking envelope. Lawson said the $150 in qualifying fees the men allegedly promised to pay him was not included in the money. He says a woman in the office then asked to see his driver's license so that she could notarize the form needed for Lawson to withdraw from the council race.
Lawson says he then walked outside the office and Petite took a picture of the cash. Captain Mike Toney asked Lawson why he had Petite take a photo. "Because I knew in my heart that it is what I thought it was, that they were bribing me to get out of the race."
Lawson says he then walked back into Berthelot's office, left all of the money on the counter, and walked out.
Berthelot owns a loan business. Lawson told investigators he has received money from that business before but he did not consider this current money to be a loan because he did not have to fill out any loan paperwork as he had to do in the past.
At one point during the interview an investigator, seemingly frustrated by Lawson's slow and unclear responses, asked Lawson if he was on any medication. Lawson tells them he was taking Xanax and Hydrocodone, records show.
Toward the end of his interview with investigators, Lawson says Wade Petite did loan him $200 after the meetings but that he (Lawson) considered the money to be a loan.
WADE PETITE INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/4/2016 - Petite is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Petite tells investigators that he and Lawson have been acquaintances for about 20 years.
Petite tells investigators that he runs an online newspaper, is opinionated, and has been very critical of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa for reasons he thinks are "becoming born out now." "Two things I'll never have again my lifetime is a boss or an employee," Petite tells investigators, according to the transcript. "I'm a one man show, I don't like being told what to do."
Petite says he's reviewed parish contracts issued since Matassa took office and "very rarely is a parish contract issued to somebody who's not his campaign contributor." Petite added that he believes it is an "absolute corrupt administration" and he believes Matassa is just taking orders from others. "He's not making decisions, he is incapable of making decisions, he's incompetent and he's taking orders," Petite told investigators.
Petite says he believes Matassa at times has contacted certain people who advertised in Petite's newspaper to try to get them to drop their ads in the publication.
Petite discusses with investigators multiple instances in which he believes elected officials in Ascension parish have worked behind the scenes to get certain candidates elected.
Petite says he is the one who first made contact with Wayne Lawson. He says he called Lawson to wish him luck in his campaign and told him "if you can throw me a couple dollars okay, I'll run an ad and give you some play in the paper."
Petite says he and Lawson later met in person and Lawson told him he'd received text messages from "the click" about Lawson's campaign for city council. "I'm getting some messages from 'the click' that they want me out of this race one way or another," Petite says Lawson told him. Petite says he then asked who is in "the click". "The click is Olin Berthelot, Johnny Berthelot and Alvin Turner," he says Lawson replied.
Petite says Lawson then made a phone call to Olin Berthelot and Petite secretly listened in on speaker. He says Olin Berthelot invited Lawson to his office for a meeting with himself and Matassa. Petite says Berthelot told Lawson "we gonna take care of you".
Petite says he then asked Lawson if he would record the conversations and Lawson said he would and had actually already planned to do so.
Petite says Lawson asked him for a loan but Petite says he did not pay Lawson any money for recording the conversations.
On the morning of the meeting, Petite says he and Dustin Clouatre waited outside as Lawson went inside of Olin Berthelot's business for the meeting. Petite says he then watched as Matassa walked into the business. After the meeting, Petite says he left and went to a place where he could listen to the secret recordings.
After the meeting had transpired, Petite says Lawson asked him for $1,000 for what Petite characterized as a loan. Petite says he did not have the money to loan Lawson but claimed that Clouatre agreed to give Lawson the $1,000. Petite says both he and Clouatre knew that Lawson would likely never pay the money back.
Investigators asked Petite if he believed the $1,000 had anything to do with Lawson cooperating with Petite in putting the story in his newspaper. Petite said no. Petite said Lawson did promise to eventually pay the money back without interest.
Petite says, a few days later, he returned to Bayou Financial with Lawson for the meeting where Lawson was allegedly expected to sign an affidavit to drop out of the council race. Petite says a notary, Christy Burnett, was there waiting. He told investigators Burnett is the Director of the parish health unit which is Matassa's old job.
Petite says Lawson walked outside so that Petite, waiting in the parking lot, could take a photograph of the cash as well as a photo of an affidavit to drop out of the council race that Lawson had just allegedly received inside. Petite says Lawson then walked back inside the business and left the money on the counter of Berthelot's business before leaving the building.
Petite, now armed with the secret recordings, says he wrote a "teaser" for his online newspaper on Friday announcing that he would publish a "bombshell" the following Monday.
Petite then tells investigators he wished Matassa "had the balls to stand in front of me one time." "So I could tell him that you see what happens, Kenny, when you poke the mother fu**ing bear, okay, you get fu**ing mauled."
NEAL BOURQUE INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/4/2016 - Bourque is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
"I have no details of anything that... that trying to make my opponent (Lawson) do anything he didn't want to do."
Bourque says, while he has been close personal friends with Olin Berthelot and Kenny Matassa for 35 to 40 years, he did not know of the alleged bribe until it came out in the news.
BERNIE CAPONE INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/9/2016 - Capone is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Bernie Capone, an Ascension Parish employee, says "Kenny wanted me to go by and give him some advice on that trailer."
Capone makes it clear that Matassa sent him to Wayne Lawson's mother's home to look at a food trailer. Capone says Matassa was willing to help Lawson get it running. Capone says Matassa also asked him to go check on another trailer on the west bank of the parish.
DUSTIN CLOUATRE INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/5/2016 - Clouatre is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Dustin Clouatre sometimes works for Wade Petite doing computer-related jobs.
"Wade called me," he told investigators. "They (Wade Petite and Wayne Lawson) needed me to come over, they had a guy approach him that he was going to be bribed for some money."
"Lawson is instructed and rushed, not just instructed but rushed because this is 10 o'clock Friday morning, from my understanding this piece of paper (candidacy withdrawal form) has to be turned in to the secretary of state at noon."
Clouatre told investigators he was being contacted by Petite about using a recording device to record a conversation between Lawson and Berthelot and Matassa. Clouatre says he waited outside of Berthelot's business, Bayou Financial, with Wade Petite and another man while Lawson went inside. He says Berthelot, Matassa and Lawson met for 35 minutes. Lawson then came out with $900 cash, he said.
After listening to the recordings, Clouatre said, "Wayne Lawson obviously asked these people several questions, some of the same questions several times, to the point where you almost wonder hey what's up my thing was, that was really easy."
ALLEN "BOXCAR" BRAUD INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/9/2016 - Braud is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Allen "Boxcar" Braud, Jr. is the Ascension Parish DPW Director.
Braud told investigators that Matassa "asked me if we had any openings at all."
Matassa did not ask specifically ask about a job for Lawson. He just wanted to know if the parish had any openings for drivers, he said. Braud says, it's not uncommon. He adds, former Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez has also asked him that same question on several occasions.
"I told him (Matassa) if he (Lawson) put in his application we'd interview him."
Braud says Lawson was on the list of people to be interviewed for the job but he never showed up.
CHRISTY BURNETT INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/4/2016 - Burnett is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Christy Burnett is the Ascension Parish Health Unit Director and is also a certified notary public.
"I was off," she told investigators, "I was mowing my grass. Mr. Matassa called me and said, um sugar, can you do me a favor."
Burnett says Matassa was in Lake Charles attending a conference. She did not know what her boss (Matassa) was asking her to notarize or who it was for until she arrived at Bayou Financial. "He said i need you there by 10 o'clock," she said.
Burnett admits she saw money in a folder and a candidacy withdrawal form but didn't pay it any attention.
"I heard him (Lawson) say, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, and he's counting out loud. He ended up at nine hundred dollars. He said this is nine hundred and there's supposed to be more."
Burnett says it was not until she saw Wade Petite sitting outside near Bayou Financial that she realized something unusual was going on. She told investigators, "I think Kenny was set up. I think Wade set Kenny up."
KRISTIN SHAMPINE INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/9/2016 - Shampine is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office.
Kristin Shampine says she was hired by Olin Berthelot to run errands and clean his office.
Shampine told investigators her boss, Berthelot, called to see if she would run an errand. But she says, he never gave her any details. She says it was normal for Berthelot to ask her to run errands for him because he is busy running 22 companies.
"He (Berthelot) was like hey, can you run this paper for me, to Baton Rouge? I just said yeah, cause at the time I needed the money."
DONNA MICHAEL INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/9/2016 - Michael is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Donna Michael says she is part owner of Ascension Credit and that Olin Berthelot trained her 40 years ago.
"I'm just flabbergasted that any of that went on," she said.
Michael says Berthelot called her early Friday, July 29th, and asked her to write a check for $900, cash it, put it in an envelope and bring it to his office before 9:30 a.m.
"I received a phone call from Olin Berthelot as soon as I walked in my office on Friday morning (July 29). It was a request to umm, take some money out of an account I have there, we're both on the account and ah, bring it down to Bayou Financial."
AMANDA PURPERA INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/9/2016 - Purpera is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Amanda Purpera told investigators she works at Bayou Financial. Purpera said Berthelot, Matassa and Lawson were in Berthelot's office at Bayou Financial on Monday, July 25, with the door closed. That was two days before the alleged bribe happened.
"Mister Olin did explain that Mister Lawson that he didn't have a job so they were going to try and help him out with something with the parish and they had left an envelope for entry fee and the application."
TAMMY KUNDLER INTERVIEW WITH INVESTIGATORS
8/8/2016 - Kundler is interviewed by Investigators Ike Vavassuer and Danny McAllister with the Attorney General's Office and Captain Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office.
Tammy Kundler is the manager at Bayou Financial and has worked for Berthelot for 35 years.
Kundler tells investigators she was just doing what her boss told her to do. She says she knew the three men, Matassa, Berthelot and Lawson had met the Monday before the alleged bribe. Kundler says Berthelot gave her a folder with a candidacy withdrawal form and a parish job application inside. When she asked Berthelot what was going on, Kundler told investigators he explained if Lawson would drop out of the Gonzales City council race then he (Berthelot) would not have to campaign for the incumbent, Neal Bourque.
"Wednesday no money was involved; we had two things in the folder. Friday he (Berthelot) calls and says; oh Wayne needs some money and I'm like, Olin you can do that?," she told investigators.
Kundler says she told a co-worker, Amanda Purpera, "I can't believe Olin would involve himself in something so stupid, like ah, I tried telling him Wednesday morning and all he could say is ah, well you know if we don't have to walk (campaign) the streets."
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