Trial date set in Ascension Parish president bribery case

GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - A trial date has been set for Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, who is accused of bribery.

The judge ordered the trial to begin on March 13, 2018 following a hearing Wednesday morning.

There were lots of heated debates during the hearing. Matassa's attorneys wanted his charges thrown out because they believe that the man their client allegedly bribed was not a qualified candidate.

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Wayne Lawson said he was bribed by both Matassa and local businessman Olin Berthelot, who also faces charges. During Wednesday's hearing, Matassa's attorneys said they had two witnesses who could prove Lawson lied about his residency when he filed to become a candidate.

However, Judge Jason Verdigets refused to hear that testimony and said a jury can determine whether or not Lawson was eligible. Assistant Attorney General Jeff Traylor will prosecute the case.

"We're just going by what the statute says when you become a candidate and that's the biggest issue here," said Traylor. "So, we're very happy, obviously, with the ruling. We think it's a proper ruling."

"I think if the attorney general and his lawyer sit down and look at the evidence, understand the aspects of this evidence, and look at the evidence that they've requested from the experts, they'll realize that this is a prosecution that shouldn't take place," said Lewis Unglesby, Kenny Matassa's attorney.

Lawyers for both Matassa and Berthelot appealed the ruling that this case go to trial, but Traylor said he's confident a court of appeals will echo the judge's ruling and this case will go to a jury.

Matassa is accused of paying off Wayne Lawson to drop out of a Gonzales City Council race.

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