DA recuses, Matassa hearing postponed
After receiving information that members of his office supported the Matassa campaign for Parish President, Ascension Parish District Attorney Ricky Babin has recused his office from the bribery probe involving Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa.
The information regarding Babin’s office came via an article on The Pelican Post that alleges attorney Chuck Long - a top prosecutor from the DA’s office - supported the Matassa campaign, along with two others from Babin’s office.
According to The Pelican Post, Long, who doubles as Donaldsonville’s City Attorney on top of a thriving private practice, contributed $5,000 to Matassa’s campaign in 2015 ($2,500 from Charles S. Long, APLC on Feb. 10, 2015 and another $2,500 personally on Nov. 20, the day before a runoff election).
Previously unaware of the donations, Babin had said he would not recuse his office as he did not find himself too close to the case. He rather called on the Attorney General’s office for assistance back in August.
Allegations of bribery involving Parish President Kenny Matassa took shape late on the evening of July 31 on The Pelican Post, where the writer, Wade Petite alleged - complete with recordings of voices said to be Matassa and Olin Berthelot - that the first term Parish President may have been involved in a bribe to keep Gonzales City Council candidate, Wayne Lawson, out of this year's election.
Lawson, who lost the council race to incumbent Neal Bourque - 61 percent to 39 percent - said he did not accept the bribe. According to Louisiana law, even if an offered bribe is not taken, it's still a violation of the law.
The DA’s office immediately stepped in to probe the allegations on Aug. 1. Later that same day, Babin, who was out of town, said he requested the assistance of the Attorney General and the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office. The request was mistaken for a possible recusal, however Babin said at the time that his office was not recusing.
“No, we have not recused,” Babin said. “We are seeking assistance – there’s a huge difference.”
The grand jury hearing for the case was scheduled to begin Tuesday in Donaldsonville, however in light of the DA’s recusal, the hearing is postponed until Friday when a new grand jury is seated. The case will proceed under the Attorney General’s office.
“In light of the recent recusal and expiration of the current grand jury, we will continue any presentation before the newly seated grand jury which is expected to be in place by this Friday, Nov. 18. This does not change the nature of the investigation or our presentation,” the AG’s office said in a statement Tuesday morning.
Matassa’s lawyer Lance Unglesby has offered several times in previous interviews that the word “bribe” is being too loosely used in describing the case. He rather refereed to the possible exchange of money as a loan.
However, Lawson further alleged that he was also offered a parish job along with the money if he would have dropped out of the council race, all of which was recorded and shared on The Pelican Post.