[Editor's Note: This story has been edited to include additional information from Romero's past.]
It didn’t take Catherine Doucet Romero very long to go back to her old tricks.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced in an Aug. 29 news release that Romero was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for defrauding investors out of more than $2 million. The 53-year-old Lafayette woman was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell on one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. She was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $2.04 million in restitution.
According to Romero's Aug. 31, 2015, guilty plea, from March 2007 to July 2009, she convinced victims to invest by telling them that their money would be used to purchase a manufacturing facility and tannery to create products from alligator and stingray hides. Instead, Romero used the money to pay personal bills and expenses of an unrelated business, according to the news release.
The FBI conducted the investigation, and assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker prosecuted the case.
Court records show that Romero was sentenced in the prior federal case in March 1994 and resentenced the following January. She got two years in prison and three years of supervised probation. The Independent was unable to immediately obtain the outcome of the state case against her in the early 1990s, where she faced three counts of felony theft for swindling thousands from Louisiana investors. Her bankruptcy and other legal troubles were extensively documented in the early 1990s by this reporter, who at the time was a business writer for The Times of Acadiana.
Romero, then a 30-year-old self-taught businesswoman with no formal education, was promoting a 3,000-acre, $225 million development described in company press materials as “state of the art, multi-media production facility, a major theme park with water rides and attractions that portray the best of Cajun and New Orleans cultures, extensive recreation areas, including three golf courses, theme hotels, executive housing, dining facilities and replicas of Cajun bayou life and the Port of New Orleans.”
The Washington, La., native, who had been widowed at the age of 17 and left with a 6-month-old child, often bragged about her international connections (think "multi-international arbitrage transactions," as her attorney described them) and maintained that her theme park would create 3,000 jobs.
Hundreds of investors fell for her sales pitch even after the Louisiana State Office of Securities had issued a cease and desist order because Romero was not licensed to solicit funds for investment purposes in the state. The state commissioner told The Times he believed she was running a Ponzi scheme.
Romero's employees in St. Landry Parish had also been growing increasingly suspicious about her motivations.
The people who worked for one of her companies, Jabot Productions Inc. in Opelousas, while she was promoting the park to potential investors did not know what kind of work Jabot did or even what kind of job they and others in the building were hired to do. One employee told The Times in early 1993 that the staff became adept at computer games. “We had a great Yahtzee game on the computer,” she said. “We were like in our own little world.”