July 31, 2013 06:31

AG Buddy Caldwell's office says it's "close to finishing our review of the evidence" contained in an independent report former ADA Keith Stutes compiled after a federal investigation into bribery at the 15th Judicial District Attorney's Office came to light.

Photo by Robin May
Former ADA Keith Stutes

After federal investigators paid a surprise visit to District Attorney Mike Harson's office in February 2012 - looking, we now know, for evidence of a four-year-long bribery scheme centered mainly on how OWI cases were prosecuted - Keith Stutes did his own investigation. Then an assistant district attorney with nearly three decades in the office, Stutes launched an internal probe and forwarded his findings to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell for potential prosecution.

That was May 2012.

The feds, obviously, knew what they were looking for. Since then there have been five guilty pleas in the scheme - among those copping a plea were Harson's longtime office administrator Barna Haynes and an assistant district attorney - and one federal indictment of the alleged mastermind, local private investigator Robert Williamson. A story in Wednesday's Daily Advertiser indicates that the sentencing of most of those who pleaded guilty has been delayed until December. Four of the five are asking that their sentencing take place after PI Williamson's trial. Williamson's trial date has not been set, according to the story.

It is anyone's guess what's in the "Stutes Report," but it will likely point to a high level of ineptitude on Harson's part if not malfeasance in office. 

The report represents a no-win situation for Harson, says Pearson Cross, head of UL Lafayette's Political Science Department. "Harson's going to get burned either way," says Cross. While Harson has likely escaped federal prosecution, he could be facing state charges if Caldwell convenes a grand jury. If Caldwell doesn't take the findings to a grand jury, Cross says, it's a public record and everyone gets to see what's in it (and decide for ourselves whether politics played into Caldwell's decision not to act on it. He and Harson are very close).

Will AG Buddy Caldwell ask a grand jury to consider evidence contained in former ADA Keith Stutes' investigative report, evidence that could potentially lead to malfeasance charges against his friend Mike Harson? We should know soon.

"As of today, it is still pending," AG spokeswoman Amanda Larkins tells The IND via email. "However, we are close to finishing our review of the evidence."

Clearly frustrated by what had been taking place in the office under Harson's watch, Stutes told The IND in May that he is considering running for district attorney.

He has yet to announce a decision. Read more about him here.

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