Tale of the tape: What did Harson know about PI Williamson's role in OWI scandal?

by Leslie Turk

In a just-released audio recording, City Prosecutor Gary Haynes claims Mike Harson had direct dealings with the alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme in the DA's office.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional information from the recording. Check back later today for audio clips.]

Did a campaign supporter and friend of Robert Williamson help the private eye, who is charged with bribery, gain access to Mike Harson?

Former Lafayette Police officer Kane Marceaux dropped a bit of a bombshell Aug. 10, revealing in a post on the Broken Badges Facebook page that he is in possession of an audio recording of a conversation he had with Lafayette City Prosecutor Gary Haynes that centered on the bribery scandal in the 15th Judicial District Attorney's office. The recording, made without Haynes' knowledge, dates back to April 2012, about a month after Haynes' wife, Barna, was put on leave from the office.

Lafayette City Prosecutor Gary Haynes

By September of that year, Barna Haynes, District Attorney Mike Harson's longtime administrative assistant (she worked for him for 30 years), had resigned from the office. The following January she pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, admitting in federal court to taking $55,000 in bribes over a four-year period - $500 per case.

The feds say Barna Haynes and others conspired with Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson to exploit Harson's own "Immediate 894" program, helping those charged with misdemeanor and felony crimes secure favorable outcomes in court. Those cases involved a variety of crimes, most of which were misdemeanor OWIs, but Haynes also accepted bribes in drug and possibly weapons cases.

Assistant DA Greg Williams pleaded guilty in the case, as did his secretary and two other women who worked for local nonprofits. All are awaiting sentencing.

Private eye Robert Williamson

The alleged mastermind behind the scheme, Williamson, pleaded not guilty and after multiple delays is set to go to trial Oct. 20. He is charged with six counts of bribery "for operating a pay-for-plea scheme that garnered favorable treatment for defendants charged with state violations of operating while intoxicated," one count of conspiracy, one count of Social Security fraud and one count of making false statements to federal agents.

Frustrated that the investigation failed to ensnare some of the officials and others he believes played a role in the bribery scheme or had knowledge of it, Marceaux felt he had nothing to lose. And possibly much to gain - at least in the court of public opinion. This isn't the first time Marceaux has spoken out publicly about what he feels is injustice in the justice system. He's also one of the ex-cops behind the lawsuit against the Lafayette Police Department.

The IND has obtained the full recording, which runs for approximately 1.5 hours and was made at a local coffee shop; to say there are intriguing allegations and salacious moments on the profanity-laden audio would be an understatement. Throughout the conversation Gary Haynes has one motivation: He wants to know if he is a target in the probe and whether his phone is being bugged, and he appeals to Marceaux to speak with Marceaux's colleague, identified only as Cory (but likely Lafayette Police Sgt. Cory Clause), to find out. Everyone reading this should also be mindful that Gary Haynes likely had another motivation - protecting his wife.

The audio, however, may help answer a burning question in what the feds continue to insist is an ongoing probe: How could DA Mike Harson not have known what was going on under his nose for four years?

To hear Gary Haynes tell it, Harson was well aware of Williamson's involvement in the cases in question and signed off on everything Barna Haynes did in the office (Gary insists the times when Harson gave Barna permission to sign his name were few).

"What she prepared was an expungement that requires [the alleged offender] to go before a judge in open court and have a hearing," Gary Haynes says. "There's no way she could unilaterally get this stuff done."

And the tape also makes it pretty clear that Gary knew his wife was doing this "paperwork" for Williamson - on the recording he says she is likely to be indicted "for that typing stuff."

"The reason this guy paid my wife ... she knows what she's doing," Gary Haynes says.

He also claims that he warned her to stay away from Williamson. Still, he asserts that he had very little knowledge of what was going on in the DA's office (as city prosecutor, Haynes is an assistant DA who also prosecutes OWI cases in city court, but he has a separate physical office). "I never went up in that office - very, very rare," Gary Haynes says on the tape. "I didn't see the comings and goings. ... I told [Barna] a couple of times, Don't fool with that guy.'" Gary says Williamson was "telling people on the street, I can get this done,'" and also was bragging that he was friends with Barna.

He certainly had reason to warn her. Read more about Williamson's past as a serial suer here.

Still, this line proves Gary Haynes just doesn't get it: "I mean you're not talking about a lot of money either, certainly not enough for everybody to f------ sell their soul on that kind of f----- money, you know what I mean? It's bullshit." While Barna Haynes pleaded guilty to taking $55,000 in bribes, the feds contend she took more than $70,000. She got paid $500 for typing work that took her about an hour, Gary says on the tape. And, according to Gary, the feds got the goods on Williamson and Barna using marked bills.

Gary also says on the recording that Williamson hired someone to mow the Haynes' yard, though Gary insists he personally paid for the service.

Gary Haynes did not respond to an emailed request and follow-up text message seeking comment for this story.

The tape also does not indicate whether Harson knew Barna Haynes was being paid by Robert Williamson, but it does make it harder for Harson to play dumb. According to Gary Haynes, Barna was not part of the meetings between Harson and Williamson. "She wasn't even privy. When they would meet, personally, she wouldn't be sitting right there with Williamson and Harson."

We'll probably never know why Harson gave Williamson the time of day or why he dealt with someone who clearly was not an attorney but acting in the capacity of one.

A political favor perhaps? On the recording, Gary Haynes says it was longtime Harson supporter and Lafayette lawyer Grady Abraham who introduced the two. Abraham continues to support Harson, donating $3,000 in December 2013 and kicking in another $1,000 this March for his re-election campaign. Harson faces former longtime assistant DA Keith Stutes in the Nov. 4 election.

"[Williamson] is his friend," Gary Haynes says of Abraham. "He f------ introduced me to him. He introduced Mike Harson to him."

The city prosecutor goes on to say he has a "gut feeling Grady might be a target." Abraham has not been implicated in the bribery case.

Neither Harson nor Abraham responded to requests for comment for this story.

Gary Haynes, who once aspired to replace Harson as DA, saves his strongest criticism of Harson for the way the DA handled the personnel situation involving a former assistant, J. Floyd Johnson. Harson kept Johnson on the job after Johnson beat his wife in 2004 and even as the feds began investigating him a year later. Our sources say the investigation was prompted by law enforcement officials' complaints about Johnson's record on drug prosecutions, including drug cases he chose not to prosecute and his decisions to reduce charges. Johnson was eventually convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 18 months in prison, having stayed on at the DA's office up until the moment he pleaded guilty in November 2010.

Haynes mentions the irony of being a potential target in a federal investigation after being so frustrated with the way Harson was doing his own job.

Photo by Robin May

J. Floyd Johnson

"You and I ... sat around a few times talking about Floyd Johnson and talked about why the f--- Mike didn't get rid of that mother f----- ... What the f--- is going on that Mike is letting this mother f-----do what he wants on that end of town, letting these drug dealers go? It really appalled me. That's why I wanted to be DA. I wanted to kick some ass in town, I wanted to go back after these mother f------ that Floyd let go."

Below are three segments from the recording. Check back later today for more audio clips.