Cravins outed for role in far-reaching conspiracy

by Patrick Flanagan

It wasn’t long ago when Don Cravins Sr. — a former state senator and soon-to-be former mayor of Opelousas — stood before a crowd inside the Clifton Chenier Center and defended his political ethics.

Former state Sen. and soon-to-be former Opelousas mayor Don Cravins Sr.
Photo by Robin May

It wasn’t long ago when Don Cravins Sr. — a former state senator and soon-to-be former mayor of Opelousas — stood before a crowd inside the Clifton Chenier Center and defended his political ethics.

Cravins’ address came during the Q&A portion of a February event featuring historian/author John Barry and retired Col. Russel Honoré as they began making the rounds to generate support for the New Orleans levee board’s lawsuit against nearly 100 oil and gas companies. Referring to the coming battle Barry and Honoré and the other proponents of the levee board’s lawsuit would face in the upcoming Legislative Session — notably from the Big Oil lobby machine — Cravins told the crowd of about 100 that he knew first-hand the pressures faced by Louisiana’s lawmakers. And with an air of self-congratulation, Cravins admitted that during his time in the Legislature, he too had been approached by the forces of corruption. But Cravins, in wrapping up his comment that night, left the crowd with this: Try as they might, the forces of corruption had never proven successful bringing him over to the dark side.

For Cravins, that good-guy aura has since evaporated, and according to a recent court ruling, it likely faded years ago.

In a federal civil trial that wrapped up last week, the jury found that Cravins, while serving as a state senator in 2006, attempted to use the power of his office to aid in a conspiracy hatched by one man in an attempt to seek revenge against the mother of his child.

From the court record:

Donald Cravins Sr. was a Louisiana State Senator when he conspired with [Bradley Griffith] to deprive Resa [Latiolais] of custody [of their 6-year-old son] by attempting to influence testimony of the officer who investigated the claims of child abuse made against Resa.

Specifically, Mr. Cravins personally called Officer Alex Montgomery III of the [Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office] and requested that he “help Brad out” at the custody trial when he testified.

Here’s how Montgomery, a longtime LPSO detective, recalled the phone call with Cravins when asked under oath by Latiolais’ attorney Julie Felder:

Felder: Detective Montgomery, can you tell me what Senator Don Cravins told you when he contacted you regarding this matter?

Montgomery: He asked me if I was investigating the situation of Resa Latiolais and Brad Griffith, and I said I had investigated an allegation of Resa Latiolais. And he asked me – he said that there was an ongoing child custody thing, whatever, between Brad and Resa and could I help out Brad if I could.

Felder: And so Sen. Cravins advised you – or told you there’s an investigation involving Resa Latiolais and Brad Griffith, right?

Montgomery: Right.

Felder: And then he advised you further there was an ongoing child custody thing, and, quote, could I help Brad out if I could, correct?

Montgomery: Correct.

According to campaign finance records, Cravins received a $1,000 contribution from Bradley Griffith’s Lafayette business, Charisma/Tuxedo Den. That check was cut in July 2006, and about a month later came Cravins’ phone call to Detective Montgomery asking him to “help Brad out.”

According to last week’s verdict, the jury found that Griffith and Cravins “entered into an agreement to commit an illegal act to deprive” Rita Latiolais custody of their young son.

LPSO Detective Alex Montgomery (left)

Last week’s verdict also called for $400,000 in damages be paid to Latiolais. While that sounds like good news for Latiolais, according to her attorney, Julie Felder, nothing’s set in stone yet.

“Not only did the jury find that Donald Cravins Sr. was only involved in the conspiracy, but they also ordered him to pay punitive damages,” Felder tells The IND. But here’s the catch: During the closing statements last week, the judge told Cravins that he’d be taking his motion for dismissal under advisement, despite instructions to the contrary from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

According to the federal appeals court:

[M]isuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, is action taken “under color of state law.”

[R]egardless of whether or not Cravins’ actions alone actually caused a constitutional violation, liability can still be imposed on him through his alleged membership in the conspiracy.”

Felder calls Montgomery "the good guy" in this saga, noting that he reported the pressure from Cravins to higher-ups, including internal affairs, at the sheriff's department.

A two-term mayor of Opelousas, Cravins was defeated Dec. 6 by Alderman Reginald Tatum.

There is much more to this conspiracy. Check out our upcoming issue of IND Monthly, which hits newsstands Jan. 2.