Robert Williamson, the local private investigator who called himself “Secret Cajun Man,” gave up his battle with federal authorities Monday, just as his long-delayed bribery trial was set to start.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced Monday afternoon that Williamson pleaded guilty in the pay-for-plea scheme that promised and delivered favorable treatment for defendants charged with various felony and misdemeanor crimes, mainly OWIs.
Williamson, 64, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery and one count of Social Security fraud. Williamson was indicted by a federal grand jury in February 2013; five of his bribery counts and a single count of making false statements to a federal agent were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
The Lafayette private investigator, who is not licensed to practice law, pretty much did just that for four years as part of a scheme to solicit approximately $5,000 a pop from people with pending criminal charges in the 15th Judicial District.
The factual basis for his plea states that he received no less than $444,000 for his efforts from 2008 to 2012 but notes that some of those monies were for fines, penalties and other expenses; the total amount obtained fraudulently will be determined at Williamson’s Sept. 25 sentencing. He also received approximately $77,000 from the Social Security Administration by deceiving the agency about his lack of income, according to the guilty plea.
Williamson paid bribes in cash and other items of value to personnel within former District Attorney Mike Harson’s office and employees with other entities associated with the OWI program, including Acadiana Outreach. Five others, including the ex-DA’s longtime administrator Barna Haynes and two others in the office, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Haynes admitted to receiving about $55,000 in bribes.
As part of the scheme, Williamson would obtain fraudulent certifications from Acadiana Outreach claiming his clients completed court-ordered community service and would also obtain fraudulent driver safety training certificates showing that his clients completed court-mandated driver improvement programs.
Williamson faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the conspiracy count, 10 years in prison for the bribery count and five years in prison for the Social Security fraud count. He also faces a $250,000 fine or both with up to three years of supervised release for each count.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office confirmed in November that it, too, is investigating the matter but has released no information on the scope of its inquiry. At that time, the office told The Independent that it was asked by the feds to determine whether any state laws were violated.
Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, who heads the agency’s public corruption division, recently told The Advocate that the case remains active.
“We expect some movement in the near future,” he said.