St. Bernard judge gets five years in prison; He was part of scheme to release inmates without bond
September 10, 2010

Former St. Bernard Parish Judge Wayne Cresap was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison and fined $100,000 for taking part in a judicial bribery scheme that allowed inmates to get out of jail without paying bond money.

U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon also ordered that Cresap be placed on three years of supervised release following the prison term, but the former judge will still walk away with more than $65,000 in annual retirement income after claiming a disability with the state retirement system.

Cresap pleaded guilty, along with two St. Bernard attorneys, to the kickback scheme in October, but his sentencing has been pushed back four times since the original January date. The two lawyers involved, Victor J. "V.J." Dauterive and Nunzio Salvadore "Sal" Cusimano, were sentenced in April to 48 months and 33 months in prison, respectively.

Five years was the maximum prison sentence for Cresap's charge, conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Cresap must report to prison Nov. 8. His attorney, Pat Fanning, requested that he be taken to Federal Prison Camp at Saufley Field in Pensacola, Fla., but the federal Bureau of Prisons will ultimately make the decision.

Authorities said Dauterive and Cusimano took cash—veiled as a retainer fee—from family or friends of inmates at the St. Bernard Parish Prison. They would then split the money with Cresap, and the judge would convert secured bonds, which require actual money or property to be pledged, into personal surety bonds that required only a written agreement that the money would be paid if the defendant skipped court.

The arrangement resulted in the release of nearly 100 inmates over a five-year period starting in 2004. Cresap and Dauterive both pleaded guilty to taking between $70,000 and $120,000 over the five-year period; Cusimano pleaded guilty to taking between $10,000 and $30,000 during the same period.

As part of his plea agreement, Cresap resigned in October. He has also permanently resigned from the practice of law.

Also as part of the plea agreements, Cresap agreed to be interviewed by prosecutors or potential grand juries in other cases. Cresap's sentencing had been pushed back numerous times from an original January date, fueling speculation that he might be cooperating with federal authorities in other matters. Fanning said he did not know about Cresap's cooperation with the government, but said his sentence did not indicate any leniency.

"If he cooperated, it didn't do that much good, because he got the maximum you could get," he said. Fanning said he certainly doesn't speak for federal judges in eastern Louisiana, but added, "It seems clear to me that the judges are intent on sending a message that if you get convicted in federal court in the eastern district of Louisiana in a public corruption case, there will be severe consequences. That's what I get from this."

Even while in jail as a convicted felon, Cresap will continue to receive monthly retirement income of $5,423, around $65,076 annually.

According to rules governing judicial retirement on the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System's website, Cresap, 63, would not be eligible to receive retirement benefits until he is 65, based on his length of service. But Cresap was able to retire due to a disability, which means he'll get the benefits earlier, Fanning acknowledged.

Fanning said Cresap has had back problems for many years. He said three doctors presented information to the retirement system, which made the decision to grant him retirement. Fanning said the amount Cresap will get is about half of what his potential full retirement would have been.

"He was going to be off the bench one way or another,'' Fanning said. The retirement system "could have granted the disability or not. In this case they chose to grant it to him.''

As a judge, Cresap, who was elected in 1999, presided over the bizarre, controversial fight over the estimated $250 million estate left by Arlene Meraux, the heiress to St. Bernard land baron Joseph Meraux's fortune. The U.S. attorney's office issued a subpoena this year requesting documents related to the court fight over who would control her riches.

In 2002 he declared the elderly Arlene Meraux incapable of handling her affairs and awarded significant control of her multimillion-dollar estate to Sal Gutierrez, a political ally of Cresap and St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens. Gutierrez and Stephens later became members of the board that controls the Meraux Foundation estate, along with Chalmette lawyer Sidney Torres III, Arlene Meraux's niece Rita Gue and Gue's husband, Floyd Gue.

Since then, all board members except Stephens have drawn annual salaries from foundation money that have escalated from $35,000 to $120,000 each in 2007. Stephens does not take a salary but has a management interest in the historic Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop bar in the French Quarter, once owned by Meraux and still part of the estate, and a long-term lease to manage property that houses the Breton Sound Marina and offshore oil and gas support equipment on Meraux Foundation land in Hopedale.

Copyright 2009
The Times-Picayune Publishing Corporation

From: Chris Kirkham, "St. Bernard judge gets five years in prison; He was part of scheme to release inmates without bond," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 10, 2010, National, p. 1.  Kirkham can be reached at  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.