“I know the difference between a gift and a bribe, and I've never tried to bribe anyone and I never will.”
-- Louis Marcotte
Former President, Bail Bonds Unlimited

Judges were given gifts, pair say; Marcotte's ex-workers tell of shrimp, fence
February 8, 2003

Bail bonds czar Louis Marcotte showered cash, turkeys, seafood and car repairs on judges and jailers, according to two former employees who worked for Bail Bonds Unlimited for a combined 17 years.

At the same time, Marcotte received unfettered access to inmates at the parish's two jails, and became so cozy with some judges that he was able to waltz into their private chambers or call them after midnight to request help with bonds, say Jeff Duhon, Marcotte's former brother-in-law, and Matt Dennis, a bounty hunter who now works for a competing company. Both men said they have become FBI informants in the sweeping federal investigation into corruption at the Jefferson Parish Courthouse.

Dennis and Duhon said they began talking to the FBI about the inner workings of the Marcotte empire more than a year ago. Federal officials declined to comment on whether they are working with the pair.

The former employees claim Marcotte paid for car repairs and built a fence for former 24th Judicial District Judge Thomas Porteous, who now sits on the federal bench, and repeatedly gave 600 pounds of shrimp to Judge Joseph Grefer, a former 24th Judicial District judge who ran the Jefferson Parish drug court. They also say Marcotte gave a jailer $1,600 cash to buy three guns, and routinely handed out free holiday turkeys to workers in the Gretna jail and courthouse.

Their statements support assertions in an earlier FBI affidavit that Marcotte used cash, vacations, campaign contributions and, in one case, a Mercedes Benz, to curry favor with jailers and jurists. Prosecutors filed the affidavit Aug. 27, 2001, in an attempt to obtain a judge's approval to tap the phones of indicted former Judge Ronald Bodenheimer, Marcotte and six others, according to sources who have seen the document.

Grefer denied receiving free shrimp. Porteous did not respond to the allegations.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, when Ronald Bodenheimer was first elected to Jefferson Parish's 24th District Court in 1999, Judge Porteous told him that "he would never again need to pay for his own lunch."
  • Drew Broach, "A rank odor in the judge's chambers," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 21, 2008, Metro, p. 7.

Marcotte acknowledged giving gifts, saying "It's part of the Louisiana culture for friends to exchange gifts at appropriate times, like birthdays and Christmas.

"I know the difference between a gift and a bribe, and I've never tried to bribe anyone and I never will."

He described Duhon and Dennis as "disgruntled former employees who are competing with me for bail bond business."

Thus far, the 3½-year federal probe has netted prosecutors a pair of indictments, and acting U.S. Attorney Jim Letten suggested this week more are likely to come.

The first, issued July 17, accused Bodenheimer and Slidell mechanic Curly Chewning of conspiring to plant drugs on a business foe. The second, handed down last week, charges Bodenheimer and two others with conspiring to fix restaurateur Al Copeland's custody case in exchange for a seafood contract and other favors.

Bodenheimer, whose term ended Dec. 31, has pleaded innocent in the drug conspiracy case. He is under house arrest and scheduled for trial March 31. Bodenheimer has yet to be arraigned on the second set of charges.

Turkeys and shrimp

Each year, just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, Marcotte would stuff a wad of cash in Duhon's pocket and send him to a seafood lot in Westwego to pick up 600 pounds of shrimp, Duhon said.

Duhon said he would then drop the load in Gretna on the doorstep of Grefer, a former 24th Judicial District judge who ran the Jefferson Parish drug court.

"It was so regular, you could set your calendar by it," said Duhon, who said he made the deliveries for at least seven years. "I never spent less than $600."

Grefer, who was reached at his home this week, said he was never the recipient of free shrimp.

"I was on the bench and I did the job that I was supposed to do," said the judge, who ran the drug court from 1992 until 2000. "I don't care to discuss this any further."

Grefer was not the only judge Duhon says he catered to on behalf of his boss.

Duhon routinely took vehicles belonging to Porteous to a local auto shop to be repaired, on Marcotte's tab, he said. Duhon said he also personally installed a fence in Porteous' back yard, paid for by Marcotte.

Duhon said it was Porteous who gave him his break in 1992, when the judge expunged his felony record as a favor to Marcotte, allowing him to apply for a bail bonds license. Duhon had been arrested for burglary when he was 17, a charge for which he served 93 days in jail for probation violation, he said.

Three years later, the Metropolitan Crime Commission criticized Porteous for expunging the record of Aubrey Wallace, another former Bail Bonds Unlimited employee who said he aspired to be a bail bondsman, a state-regulated job that requires a clean criminal record. At the time, Porteous denied he did it as a favor to Marcotte; he said he had known the defendant for years and thought he could turn his life around.

Porteous was elected district judge in Jefferson Parish in 1984 and served 10 years. He was then appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. District Court bench in New Orleans. Porteous was told of the bondsmen's claims, but did not respond.

Duhon, 44, said he joined Marcotte as a "gopher" in 1990, and married Marcotte's sister, Lisa, three years later. In January 2002, Duhon was fired when Marcotte accused him of stealing money, shortly after he and Lisa divorced, he said.

In between, Duhon says he was Marcotte's "muscle man," writing bonds, pressuring defendants and doing almost anything Marcotte asked -- including taking jailers to Copeland's restaurant twice a week and throwing parties.

Dennis, on the other hand, joined Bail Bonds Unlimited in 1995 and supervised 45 bounty hunters until May 2001, when he abruptly left the firm, taking 20 employees with him. On June 13, Dennis was arrested and booked with extortion, burglary and 46 counts of obstruction of justice after Marcotte accused him of breaking into his offices and stealing files. The charges were dropped 13 days later when the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office refused to accept the case, a spokesman said.

Since the split, Dennis — who now works for Steve's Bail Bonds — has become one of Marcotte's most public critics, protesting Marcotte's "illegal" business practices by passing out fliers and posting signs outside his office.

Gifts given to many

In addition to the gifts and favors, cash payments were also common, the bondsmen said. Duhon once delivered $1,600 from Marcotte to Sgt. Landry Forges, a Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputy at the intake section of the Gretna jail, he said. Forges was told to use it to buy three guns as Christmas gifts for deputies.

Forges did not return phone messages. But Marcotte's attorney Arthur "Buddy" Lemann said Marcotte has bought weapons for deputies, all of which were used in their law enforcement duties.

"It's no different than the Treasure Chest Casino buying cars for Kenner police officers," Lemann said.

Forges and Capt. William Giangrosso are the only two jailers identified in the August 2001 federal affidavit that prosecutors filed to seek the first wiretaps in the investigation, according to sources who have seen the document.

The sources said the affidavit cites testimony from a deputy who was cooperating with the FBI, and who told investigators he witnessed Forges accepting "a large wad of cash" from a Bail Bonds Unlimited employee, as well as using the Visa Gold card of Marcotte's sister, Lori, to buy tires for his vehicles in 1998 and 2000. The witness also said he saw work crews perform repairs at Forges' home, and Forges told him the job was paid by Marcotte.

The same cooperating deputy, sources said, told investigators that he participated with Giangrosso and other cops in purchasing alcohol with Lori Marcotte's credit card.

Giangrosso said the allegations are "absolutely false."

Marcotte also gave $1,000 cash each month and a cell phone to Lt. Guy Crosby, Dennis said. Crosby worked in the warrants and attachments division of the Sheriff's Office and would track fugitives who received bail bonds through Marcotte's firms. About three years ago, Dennis said, Marcotte asked him to deliver a payment to Crosby. He refused. Sheriff Harry Lee said Crosby retired June 22, shortly after two interviews with federal investigators.

Crosby did not return phone messages.

Lemann, however, confirmed that Crosby worked for Marcotte during his off-duty hours, performing security details and looking up information that Lemann said is public record and available to anyone who asks.

"Police and deputies moonlight all the time," Lemann said.

Marcotte also employed relatives of some judges and jailers, including the son of Lt. Myrtis Randall, who works in the Gretna jail.

Randall denied that Marcotte received special treatment in return for employing her son.

"That's bull----," she said.

Both Dennis and Duhon also said Marcotte regularly delivered turkeys during holidays to employees in multiple sections of the courthouse, the Sheriff's Office administration building and the Gretna jail.

Lemann said there was nothing nefarious about the holiday handout.

"It would not come as any surprise to me if he routinely gave Christmas gifts to a whole bunch of people," he said. "Louis is a very generous person."

A question of tickets

An entrepreneur who started in the bond business as a janitor two decades ago, Marcotte recently boasted that he writes 95 percent of the bonds in Jefferson Parish, and that he owns almost every bail bonds company within a five-block radius of the Parish Courthouse.

"I've got the jail surrounded like Fort Knox," he said in an interview last year.

Marcotte has built formidable ties with judges and attorneys, in part through large campaign contributions, records show. Directly or through his businesses and family, Marcotte has dished out more than $32,000 in contributions to Lee since October 1998, as well as smaller donations to several judges, according to state campaign finance records.

Duhon and Dennis said Marcotte gave thousands every year to family and friends to buy tickets for Lee's fund-raiser, as a favor to the deputies assigned to sell them. Marcotte then gave the tickets back to the deputies to give to other rank-and-file officers.

In the past, Lee has acknowledged that political activity has played a role in who is promoted to higher ranking posts in his office, and numerous former deputies have also complained that ticket sales for the fund-raiser play a role in promotions.

Lee on Friday said that ticket sales are not a factor in promotions.

"I can promote anybody, and I can demote anybody. But the tickets have nothing to do with it," he said.

Lemann said Marcotte and his family are "big supporters" of Lee, but do not exceed state contribution limits. They give the Fais Do-Do tickets they buy "to other people," including deputies, "who could otherwise not go," he said.

Recording device

Lee declined to comment on particular allegations against deputies. But he said his office has conducted two investigations into alleged bribes by bondsmen in the Gretna jail in the past seven years.

The first probe took place in February 1996, after Lee received reports that a jailer had received a steak dinner from a Marcotte employee. Lee said he fired the deputy and suspended two other officers who shared the meal.

The second probe came in September 2000, in response to a complaint from Judge Martha Sassone, Lee said. He said his investigation found "questionable business practices" by some local bondsmen, but no criminal wrongdoing on the part of any deputy. He said Sassone and District Attorney Paul Connick received a copy of the report.

According to federal documents, an unnamed judge wore a recording device in 1999 to tape conversations with Louis and Lori Marcotte, as well as another judge, in an attempt to confirm suspicions of payoffs. The judge is not named, but events described in the affidavit combined with assertions from attorneys involved in the case suggest the cooperating judge was Sassone.

Lee dismissed the allegations from the two bondsmen, saying they "are engaged in a huge pissing contest" with Marcotte.

But the accusations worry government watchdog groups. Raphael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said his office has received dozens of complaints about abuses in Jefferson for more than a decade.

"There are strong indications of long-standing corruption," he said.

Copyright 2003, The Times-Picayune Publishing Corporation

From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, February 8, 2003, National, p. 1.  Martha Carr may be reached at mcarr@timespicayune.com, and Manuel Torres may be reached at mtorres@timespicayune.com.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.