Arrests made in joint investigation

Staff reports
Charles Puckett

A joint investigation conducted by the State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board and the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office has led to the arrest of two individuals who are associated with Southern Kumforts Lounge on Airline Highway in Prairieville, according to Sheriff Jeff Wiley.

The investigation was begun on May 5th, one day after a homicide occurred at the just outside of the business.  

On May 4th, Ascension Parish authorities responded to a call at Southern Kumforts regarding a fight that has just occurred. Upon deputies arrival they found an individual just outside the front door of the establishment unresponsive. This individual was identified as Willis Tanner of St. Amant. Medical personnel immediately arrived on scene and began performing resuscitation.

Investigators learned that a verbal altercation began inside the business between an individual identified as Zachary Pusch of Prairieville and a female. A bouncer attempted to diffuse the altercation and was pushed by Pusch. The Southern Kumfort owner, Steve Duke, and a bouncer escorted Pusch outside where a patron of the establishment, Willis Tanner, began a verbal altercation with Pucsh. As Tanner walked toward Pusch he punched Tanner knocking him to the ground.   

A bystander began rendering aid to Tanner who was still on the ground but conscious. As the bouncer attempted to restrain Pusch he pushed the bouncer again, broke away and began kicking and jumping on Tanners head repeatedly until Tanner lost consciousness. 

When deputies arrived on the scene, Pusch was still present and was taken into custody pending further investigation. The investigation revealed that twenty year old Pusch was “hired” by Southern Kumfort to erase video of the purported owner, Steve Duke, engaged in sexual acts with a woman in a business office.  Pusch was being compensated for his work by being allowed to drink alcoholic beverages free of charge.

Zachary Pusch, 20, of 16391 Joe Sevario Road Prairieville, Louisiana was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder. He is currently being held without bond in Ascension Parish jail.

On May 5th, it was learned that Southern Kumforts, which is classified under Ascension Parish Ordinances, as a Sexually Oriented Business had an ownership transfer in January and that the new owner of record on publicly filed documents was Steve Duke. 

Under Ascension Parish Ordinances, a Sexually Oriented Business license is non-transferable and therefore Steve Duke was required to seek a new license, which he did.  However, the new license had not been approved and, in effect, Southern Kumforts was operating under a current, but invalid license. 

There was further evidence that Steve Duke was not the true owner of Southern Kumfort and that the true owner was Charles Puckett.  Puckett is ineligible to obtain a Sexually Oriented Business license due to him being a convicted sex offender who is on parole.  He had been convicted of forcible rape on August 4, 1992 in a case where the victims were minors.

On May 25th search warrants were executed at Southern Kumforts and the residence of Charles Puckett.  The search resulted in the seizure of documents that showed Charles Puckett had purchased 55% ownership of Southern Kumforts on August 19, 2009 for the sum of $80,000.  Documents were also obtained that indicated that the remaining 45% of shares of Southern Kumforts was sold on January 18, 2011.  However, a January 18th document was found showing that 100% of the business was sold by Drew Stansell to Ronald Bercegeay on that date.

After Puckett obtained a controlling interest in Southern Kumforts in 2009, applications for business licenses have indicated ownership by Drew Stansell, who was an original owner, Donna Faulkner, and Steve Duke. 

During questioning, Faulkner said that she was approached by Puckett who asked her to act as the owner for the purpose of obtaining business licenses. Ronald Bercegeay told investigators that he was asked by Puckett to act as portray himself as an owner but couldn't due to a prior criminal record.  Duke, has been uncooperative on issues of actual business ownership.

As a result of the investigation, warrants were obtained for the arrest of Duke, Puckett, and Faulkner. 

Steve Duke, 56, of 15230 Silver Oak, Prairieville was arrested on Wednesday and charged with two counts of Filing and Maintaining False Public Records.  Duke had previously been arrested on May 6th for providing alcohol to the 20 year old murder suspect, Zachary Pusch.  His bond was set at $20,000 and he posted bond and was release on May 6.

Charles Puckett, 61, of 39219 James Drive, Prairieville was arrested on Wednesday and charged with six counts of Principal to Filing and Maintaining False Public Records and two counts of Failure to Register and Notify as a Sex Offender.  The later charge is related to his failure to give notice annually that he is the owner of Southern Kumforts.  A parole hold has also been placed on Puckett.

Donna Faulkner, 53, of 15230 Silver Oak, Prairieville is still the subject of investigation.

The investigation of Southern Kumforts is ongoing with preliminary audits indicating the possibility that the business was underreporting revenue to avoid paying taxes to Ascension Parish and to the State.  Additionally, it is believed that other false public records were filed with the State in order to obtain State Liquor licenses.

Southern Kumforts has not been open for business since May 5th when Sheriff's deputies notified Duke that the business was not properly licensed and action would be taken to close the business if it was found in operation.

Steve Duke