Monday, June 30, 2008
The Daily News - - Published/Last Modified on Monday, June 30, 2008 2:17 PM CDT
There were three indictments handed down last week by a federal grand jury in Shreveport and two of them should cause more than eyebrows to rise among members of the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission.
Terry Denmon, engineer for the district, and Mike Thompson, consultant for the district, were charged along with Fifth District Attorney Billy Coenen with conspiring to personally enrich themselves through the concealed purchase of property associated with Poverty Point Reservoir in north Louisiana. They also are each charged with eight counts of mail fraud.
Thompson was indicted in Lafayette a year ago alleging he illegally obtained Poverty Point funds to which he was not entitled.
Following that indictment, members of the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission voted to continue its relationship with Thompson.
We believe the time has come to cut bait on Thompson and Denmon. While there is always the presumption of innocence, the Washington Parish project is controversial enough without any additional lightning rods being attached - and Messrs. Thompson and Denmon are lightning rods.
This is not about the pros and cons of the proposed reservoir, but rather a call to provide the opportunity for the pros and cons to be debated and discussed without the inclusion of whether or not someone connected to the project broke the law.
Even with the presumption of innocence, the continued connection of individuals indicted for alleged illegal activities on a similar project raises unnecessary concerns regarding the Washington Parish Reservoir.
Only when the reservoir project can be debated on its own merits will we be able to truly investigate its need and viability and we think that can only happen sans Messrs. Thompson and Denmon.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Monroe businessman and engineer Terry Denmon was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Shreveport on charges of conspiracy and mail fraud involving a land deal at Poverty Point Reservoir in Richland Parish.
Also indicted were 5th District Attorney Billy Coenen and Poverty Point Reservoir District executive director Mike Thompson.
Thompson, brother of state Sen. Francis Thompson, was previously indicted by a federal grand jury over charges stemming from a federal investigation of Poverty Point Reservoir.
According to a copy of the indictment obtained by The Ouachita Citizen, beginning in 1995, Coenen, Denmon and Thompson conspired to purchase land near the reservoir and then used public equipment and money to make improvements to the land before selling it for some $250,000.
Denmon worked as a contractor for PPRD to provide engineering services. Coenen performed legal services for the reservoir district at the 3,000 acre lake. Both men were paid for those services by the PPRD, a state agency, according to the indictment.
In February, 1995, the group purchased a five-acre tract of land in the reservoir district for $16,800, the indictment said.
Because the three men each had interests in the reservoir district's management, they purchased the property through an unnamed agent, according to the indictment.
In July, 1998, Thompson ordered PPRD employees to remove a stand of trees on the property, the indictment said.
According to the indictment, it was the first of many improvements Thompson would make on the property before the group subdivided the tract into 5 lots in 2000.
Eventually, the group sold all five lots and pocketed some $250,000, according to the indictment.
"This prosecution is wrongheaded and frankly represents federal government overreaching at its absolute worst," said Mike Small, a noted defense attorney from Alexandria.
"This assistant U.S. attorney has taken an alleged violation of the state code of ethics, which never occurred, and parlayed it into a federal criminal case," Small said, referring to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mignonne Griffing, who is a native of Sicily Island.
"It is a sad example of a very disturbing trend on the part of federal prosecutors to meddle into purely state matters where they have no business whatsoever," Small continued. "We'll clean their clock in court and clearly show that Billy Coenen is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing.
"Unfortunately, the publicity surrounding this indictment will have already besmirched the reputation of a decent man who has tirelessly devoted the last 30 years of his life to aggressively prosecuting real criminals in the jurisdiction where he lives and serves as district attorney."
The indictment cites Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1112, which states, "no public servant...shall participate in a transaction in which he has a personal substantial economic interest of which he may be reasonably expected to know involving the governmental entity."
The indictment contends that, because each of the three men worked as consultants for PPRD, they were forbidden from profiting from land deals therein.
MONROE, La. (AP) - A northeastern Louisiana district attorney, the former head of a reservoir district and the president of an engineering company have been accused of enriching themselves by hiding interest in land next to a public project.
A federal grand indicted Fifth District Attorney William R."Billy" Coenen Jr., former Poverty Point Reservoir District executive director Michael Thompson and Denmon Engineering president Terry Denmon.
Each is charged with eight counts of mail fraud and one of conspiring to enrich himself by hiding the purchase of land that is now worth much more because of work paid for by the reservoir district.
Defense attorney Michael Small of Alexandria says Coenen is absolutely innocent.
U.S. Attorney Donald Washington says the three are accused of hiding their interest in five acres of land bought before the reservoir was created, next to where the reservoir was planned. He says they paid $16,800 for five acres - and that six of eight lotsthere have sold for a total of $250,000.
( The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)