A Lafayette grand jury has indicted City Marshal Brian Pope today on five felony counts following a criminal investigation into the marshal’s meddling in last fall’s sheriff’s campaign and his attempts to cover it up by refusing public records requests filed by this newspaper.
The marshal, had he simply cooperated and turned over the records, could have copped to what would have likely been an ethics violation and cursory fine stemming from his political dalliances. Now, however, he faces prosecution for three counts of misuse of public funds for urging voters to elect a candidate for sheriff last year and two for perjury.
After a bizarre press conference weeks before the primary in which Pope attacked then-candidate for sheriff Mark Garber, The Independent suspected political collusion between Pope and his known ally Chad Leger, Garber’s opponent in the contentious race. Flanked by his deputies in a press room at his Downtown office, Pope accused Garber of courting illegal immigration for the financial gain of his law firm, and alerted gathered media to a video provided to him by anonymous and “concerned” law enforcement. Pope would later deny under oath the involvement of the Leger campaign in the planning of that press conference, ultimately attracting a district attorney's investigation, led by prosecutor Alan Haney, and the charges handed down today.
Through a public records request of the marshal’s work emails, filed Oct. 8 of last year, The IND sought to uncover what later proved to be a staged political overture designed to assist Leger’s bid for office.
More than two months later, on Christmas Eve, a cache of emails received from Lafayette Consolidated Government proved definitively that the marshal’s presser was, in fact, orchestrated by Leger’s campaign manager, Joe Castille, a political consultant known for underhanded campaign strategies. Last month, Castille testified before the grand jury investigating Pope, sources have confirmed.
As the marshal’s email service provider, the LCG cache caught emails that Pope had either deleted or failed to turn over in response to our initial request and subsequent requests. Drafts of the marshal’s remarks and press advisory for the Oct. 7 conference, sent to the marshal’s email address by Joe Castille, were included in the LCG production among several undisclosed emails that demonstrated the extent of the marshal’s collaboration with the Leger campaign.
The revelation eradicated the plausibility of Pope's many attempted defenses, namely that his lack of cooperation was justified by a claimed investigation by his office into illegal immigration, that his refusal stood on the grounds of a right to privacy or that his email address had been “spoofed” to distribute the press materials.
The marshal’s sworn denial, both in court and in a video deposition, of the existence of those emails and his collusion with Castille prompted District Judge Jules Edwards to speculate of Pope's exposure to criminal charges when handing down a contempt of court ruling earlier this spring.
Both perjury counts point to the marshal's false testimony during the video deposition, in which he asserted that Castille had not "provided services" to him and that he not authorized the use of an email service to distribute the press advisory Castille wrote on his behalf.
Edwards punished Pope with more than $100,000 in penalties and fines, a number that continues to accrue as the civil matter remains unresolved, ordered him to serve 173 hours of community service and serve a mostly suspended spell of house arrest.
Invoices uncovered over several months of subsequent records requests appeared to show that the marshal wrote public checks to his attorney, Charles Middleton, to draft a motion to unseal Garber’s divorce records. Pope then allegedly pressured a man named Troyce Thorla to file the motion with the district court mere days before Garber’s runoff victory over Leger, according to Thorla’s affidavit.
Over the course of a 10-month civil proceeding, the marshal has retained four attorneys in his defense and appeal, all paid for by the same public funds used to pay for Middleton’s legally aggressive and politically motivated motion.
It remains unclear whether Pope can continue to use his office's funds for his criminal defense.
Pope's lead defense attorney, Kevin Stockstill, confirmed to The IND that the marshal rejected plea deals from prosecutors because they would have required his resignation.
For each perjury count, Pope faces a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment at hard labor for up to five years, or both. On the three misuse of public funds counts, he can be fined up to $1,000 per count or be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for up to two years, or both. Pope will report for booking at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center Thursday morning.
Responding to the indictment, Stockstill gave the following comment:
_"We’re disappointed that the grand jury returned an indictment. However, a grand jury is a one-sided affair in that the defense is not provided an opportunity to present its own case and make a presentation to the grand jury. Even though I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised that the grand jury returned an indictment. From here on out it won't be a one-sided affair; it will be two-sided affair. We're prepared to put together our defense and have our day in court and are confident that, after the jury hears the evidence, Marshal Pope will be exonerated."
To see photos of Marshal Pope being booked at Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, click here.