Cover Story

The Rise and Fall of Randy Hundley

by Nathan Stubbs

How decades of cronyism and political grudges culminated in a grand jury indictment of Lafayette Police Chief Randy Hundley

It's 1993, and Randy Hundley is hunched over an open filing cabinet. Using two pencils to hold open and flip through officer personnel files, he leans in, straining to read the documents.

Suddenly Jeanette Luque, secretary to Lafayette Police Chief Gary Copes, walks in the office, startling Hundley. It's an awkward moment, especially given the accusations flying around the department that Hundley and other officers have been leaking classified police personnel records to Mayor Kenny Bowen's office. Recently, Sgt. Les Jones ' furious over comments that Bowen made on his public access TV show about Jones' past ' suggested that every personnel file in the department be fingerprinted to find out who was looking through them. Bowen had just forcibly promoted Hundley to head Internal Affairs, over objections from Chief Copes and a group of seven officers that petitioned the civil service board. As Internal Affairs supervisor, Hundley now had unfettered access to officer personnel files.

When Luque walked in and unexpectedly found Hundley going through the personnel files, she asked him what he was doing. Hundley, still using the pencils to prop open a file, replied that he just needed to check something on a case. And because of Sgt. Jones, he didn't want his fingerprints on them.

The story of Luque's run-in with Hundley made its way around the police department and reinforced the notion that Hundley could not be trusted. And Hundley was left wondering whether Luque was among those in the department who suspected him of wrongdoing.

Thirteen years later, Hundley and Luque's mutual distrust is playing out in dramatic fashion. Hundley is now facing charges that, six months after being named the city's interim police chief, he conspired to place a secret listening device on Luque's desk while she was working as his secretary in an adjacent office.

"Hundley obviously knows he has no loyalty with Jeanette because of that thing [in 1993]," says Arthur "Bubba" Cormier, a retired police officer. "He could have had some animosity toward Jeanette. I'm kind of surprised he didn't try something to get rid of her earlier than he did."

A gag order prevents police officers from talking publicly about the events surrounding the Hundley case. But The Independent Weekly interviewed nine former and current city police officers ' many of whom requested anonymity for this story out of fear of reprisal from the police department ' as well as attorneys and other sources close to the case. And the felony charges now facing Hundley and three other Lafayette police officers ' all of whom retired under duress last week ' are the culmination of longstanding resentments and divisions within the Lafayette Police Department.

Hundley joined the Lafayette police force in the mid-1970s. He was a somewhat gangly, mild mannered patrolman in his early 20s with tousled sandy hair who came from a family of police officers. His father was a state trooper in Lafayette, a career path that Randy's older brother Larry followed.

The Independent Weekly's request for general police department records related to Hundley's career was denied by Lafayette Consolidated Government because it involved Hundley's personnel file. However, sources say Hundley has had a remarkably undistinguished career.

"I think he's basically a good guy, but I don't think he was a leader [in the department]," says one of Hundley's former supervisors. "I always found him to do a good job."

"There's people in the department that we call invisible," said another retired officer. "Because they really don't do anything but just get by. They never excelled, never did anything beyond what was required, and Hundley was one of those people."

Hundley's inconspicuous reputation began to change in the early '90s when Kenny Bowen re-emerged as mayor of Lafayette. A controversial figure, the now deceased mayor frequently clashed with then-police Chief Gary Copes and sought increased control over the police department. Soon, several officers, including Randy Hundley, were accused of acting as pawns for the mayor and his political agenda.

"It was really a rough time at the police department," Cormier says. "Because officers were using subversion and going to Bowen and giving him dirt on their supervisors because they didn't like them. Bowen had informers in every department."

In the summer of 1993, Bowen's secretary, Mary Parker Brown, told a TV reporter that Hundley secretly delivered the personnel files of fellow police officers to Bowen. Police Chief Copes told The Advocate that Hundley frequently met with Bowen behind closed doors without his knowledge to discuss the police force's pay plan and transfers within the department.

When Bowen appointed Hundley to the top job in Internal Affairs that year, a group of seven police officers filed a petition with the civil service board asking that Hundley be denied the Internal Affairs job on the basis that he could not be trusted with classified information. They also claimed Hundley's promotion came as a result of favors he did for Bowen.

In their petition, the officers wrote: "It is crucial that officers are hired based upon qualifications and not as a result of political promises or connections. Unfortunately we find ourselves in a very vulnerable position at this time. We cannot afford to have someone in such a sensitive position who willingly violates police protocol and chain of command to further his career with political favors."

Ironically, among the seven officers rallying against Hundley at the time were Brian Butler and Mike Lavergne ' two officers recently indicted with Hundley on charges of conspiring to set up an illegal bugging device.

The other five officers who signed the petition were Bob Johnson, Larry Bailey, Angelo Iorio, Paul Mouton and Arthur Cormier. Lacking any hard evidence to back up their claims, the petition was eventually dropped.

"It was a hot story," says Cormier. "People in the department started calling us the 'Magnificent 7' whenever we filed this petition. And then when we let it fall by the wayside, they started calling us 'the seven dwarves.'"

When Randy Hundley became acting police chief in February 2004, it represented a power shift within the police department. Hundley had never been considered one of the department's top candidates for chief, but that changed when his childhood friend and new City-Parish President Joey Durel appointed Hundley interim chief. Once Hundley ascended to the top position, he formulated an inner circle of allies who were all hungry for change in the department.

In the halls of the police department, the group was derisively referred to as the Pet Shop Boys ' a reference to Durel's Pet Shop, where Hundley and Mayor Durel worked together in high school.

Hundley's right hand man was Maj. Rick Peterson, who was always at the chief's side and sometimes served as his driver. Peterson recently retired from the department, shortly after state police began their investigation into the bugging allegations.

The group also included all the officers who faced charges before a grand jury two weeks ago: Mike Lavergne, Brian Butler, Casey Fowler and Shannon Hundley, Randy Hundley's nephew. (Fowler was the only officer not indicted.)

Within Hundley's circle, Butler, a tech-savvy narcotics agent who sported a long ponytail, and Lavergne, a sharp, ambitious veteran officer, were probably the most experienced in legal bugging and wiretap sting operations conducted by the department.

"Those two should have known positively what was illegal," says one source. "Butler worked narcotics for years, and he knows the wiretap. He's the tech guy, he knows what he's doing. He's worked a lot of cases."

Despite avoiding indictment, several sources say Fowler was likely a primary player in the bugging operation. "He's probably the strongest personality of them all," one former officer says about Fowler. "He was knowledgeable of what happened. I think he's good at pumping other people and then laying back and letting other people do the work. He's an instigator. He's been a guy behind the scenes that manipulates situations. But he never gets himself into any kind of trouble."

Prior to Hundley's appointment as chief, Fowler and his allies had long been shut out by key decision makers in the department. With Hundley in charge, they seized the opportunity to consolidate power and move up in the ranks.

"It was a case of the have-nots in the department who finally got in the position to have," says a retired officer. "And none of them were really capable or qualified to handle the authority or power that they had, and regardless if they're guilty or not, I don't think it was an honorable thing or a professional thing that they did."

Hundley's brief tenure as chief, which spanned 26 months, was a tumultuous time for the relatively small police force and its 315 employees. Officers were transferred across the department's four divisions a total of 190 times under Hundley's watch, an average of more than seven per month, according to records provided by the city's Human Resources department. (This number doesn't include straight promotions and demotions within each department, a system almost entirely controlled by Civil Service.)

Officers viewed as unfriendly to the chief and his supporters were transferred to undesirable positions while Hundley's friends moved up. According to two sources, one officer, Bill McGovern, made some complaints to city prosecutor Gary Haynes about Hundley and the department. Shortly thereafter, McGovern, who had just made police captain, was told that he was on "the wrong side of the fence and needed to get on the right side of the fence."

Tensions mounted to the point that McGovern began the process for retirement earlier this year but decided to stay when word of Hundley's legal problems began to surface.

Being on the right side of the fence brought opportunities. Lavergne became a captain and was placed in charge of Internal Affairs. Hundley also pushed to create two new police major positions ' one step below chief ' through the department's new Compstat reorganization. Both Peterson and Fowler were promoted to police major this year, considerably enhancing their retirement benefits.

"All of a sudden, [Fowler] is serving in the capacity of assistant chief," says one former officer who describes Fowler as vindictive. "He's got all these axes to grind, and if you don't have a strong chief that can see that and stop it, then it's just a runaway train, and that's what happened here."

Perceptions of favoritism have always existed within the police department. "There used to be a standing joke in the department," says Interim Police Chief Jim Craft, "that if you didn't play golf or fish you couldn't get into the detectives section because you had some supervisors there that liked to play golf and fish."

But Craft acknowledges that grudges among different factions in the department got out of control in the past two years.

"There were a lot of cliques in the department," Craft says, "made up of officers of varying ranks. There were occasions when officers had disagreements, and those persons in the right camp could walk into the chief's office and actually have people above them transferred because they didn't like them. And it happened a number of times over the past two years."

Some sources contend that Hundley's obsession with rooting out his dissenters within the department sparked the idea of listening in on employee conversations ' a practice that may have taken root in the Internal Affairs division, under Lavergne and Butler. One attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was involved in a confidential meeting with a client and Internal Affairs investigators two years ago. After the meeting, the attorney says his client was surprised to find that other officers in the department immediately knew about specific issues that were discussed behind closed doors. "There was a general impression that you had to watch what you were saying and where you were saying it because the walls had ears."

The story of how a bugging device was secretly placed under the desk of Luque, the chief's secretary, dates back to an Internal Affairs investigation into overtime pay that began in August 2004.

The primary target of the investigation was Lt. Mike DiBenedetto, who was placed on administrative leave along with his two immediate supervisors, Capt. Dwight Faul and Maj. Randy Simon.

For longtime officers in the police department, it wasn't surprising to see Hundley go after DiBenedetto.

A hard-nosed investigator and former competitive bodybuilder who helped crack several big cases within the police department, DiBenedetto first clashed with Hundley about a decade ago when the two worked together in the detectives division.

"DiBenn has a big personality," says former officer Cormier. "He's outspoken. He's not afraid to tell someone, 'You're a f--king idiot.' He's not a yes man. He tells it like it is, so I could see how he could be intimidating to some people."

In addition to their personality differences, the two found themselves at political odds when DiBenedetto signed a recall petition in the early '90s against Hundley's friend, Mayor Kenny Bowen.

Security work for the Lafayette nightclub scene also divided DiBenedetto and Hundley. DiBenedetto helped head up off-duty security for the Johnston Street nightspot The Plaza. The Plaza's chief competitor was Graham Central Station, where Hundley organized security prior to becoming chief.

"Bar owners are ridiculously competitive and cutthroat," one former officer says, "and sometimes they would try to get police officers involved when they shouldn't have."

Shortly after Hundley placed DiBenedetto on administrative leave, DiBenedetto got an attorney and fought back. In a petition to the Civil Service board in September 2004 appealing his continued status on administrative leave, DiBenedetto alleged "a pattern of persecution against him by Interim Chief Hundley."

The petition states that Hundley previously brought a "petty" claim against DiBenedetto to former Chief Ron Boudreaux and that soon after becoming interim chief, Hundley tried to transfer DiBenedetto out of criminal investigations and into patrols ' "in effect a demotion" ' before meeting with "vehement objection from Majors Jim Craft and Randy Simon."

Hundley may have been justified in challenging DiBenedetto's overtime pay. Records from 2004 show DiBenedetto was racking up high amounts of overtime pay.

An attorney close to the case says DiBenedetto was exploiting a loophole in the system that allowed supervisors to accumulate overtime duty for being "on-call" ' sometimes while performing other off-duty work. In addition to working club security, investigation records indicate DiBenedetto also was working for a local dry cleaner, helping collect on bad checks in exchange for free dry cleaning services.

"They thought [DiBenedetto] was having his cake and eating it too," the attorney says. However, the way DiBenedetto was tracking his overtime wasn't an uncommon practice in the department, notes the attorney. "The people that were casting stones weren't necessarily innocent either," the attorney continues. "That was the frustrating part. There were favorites being played. Some people were allowed to break the rules, and others weren't."

While the investigation continued, the three high-ranking department veterans were kept in limbo with the department for almost three months. In the end, the officers escaped the investigation with minor reprimand from the city, and all three retired. DiBenedetto is now head of security for River Ranch and Sugar Mill Pond. Faul works security at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, and Simon has moved to Austin.

During the investigation, many officers in the department were upset over the way the case was handled. It was particularly troubling to them that Faul and Simon, both well-respected professionals in bureaucratic office positions, were caught up in the overtime dispute. Hundley caught wind that some employees in the department were feeding information they heard about the investigation back to Faul, Simon and DiBenedetto. Employees suspected of leaking information included Hundley's secretary, Luque, who was friends with Simon and Faul.

"They all got caught up in their own personal little vendettas," one source says. "The bottom line, they thought she was leaking information to DiBenedetto."

DiBenedetto declined to comment for this story.

Luque, who still works at the police department as secretary to acting chief Craft, has served as secretary to four Lafayette police chiefs and former District Attorney Nathan Stansbury. That she was targeted as someone who could not be trusted is still disturbing to many police officers.

"She was by the book," says one former officer. "She would have never done anything illegal."

How Luque and others discovered her desk was bugged is still unclear. One source says the bugging device was uncovered when an unsuspecting officer overheard part of the crew that was indicted laughing about conversations they heard through the secret microphone.

When the officer questioned them about how they had heard conversations in Luque's office ' and the legality of eavesdropping on employee conversations ' they allegedly responded, "It's a government building, we can do what we want."

Two weeks ago, Hundley's attorney, Jason Robideaux, told reporters in the parish courthouse that the Internal Affairs investigation into DiBenedetto, Faul, and Simon was expanded to include surveillance of city police employees, including Luque, who were allegedly passing case documents to attorneys outside the department.

Robideaux also said Hundley had approved the operation under the assumption that it would be a lawful video surveillance within the department, and that the other officers acted alone when they installed the audio bug. He also claims that when Hundley discovered the microphone in his secretary's office, he personally removed the device.

Just what kind of records Luque was accused of leaking (officer payroll and overtime data is all public record) remains unclear. Robideaux and Hundley did not return follow-up calls for comment. Robideaux believes the other indicted officers are blaming Hundley for masterminding the listening operation.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Babin, who is serving as prosecutor in the case against Hundley and the other three officers, has offered few details about the case evidence, except to say that the listening device in question was purchased at Radio Shack and in use within the department around August 2004.

The four indicted officers are scheduled for arraignment July 18, at which point they will enter their official pleas. Prosecutors hope to take the case to trial before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Interim Police Chief Craft is trying to reestablish trust and unity within his police force. "My philosophy is I want to be a uniter and not a divider," he says. "That was the message to the command staff: help me heal the divisions within the department. And that's what we've been doing since March 29. A lot of officers worked with those guys very closely for a long time, so there are a lot of mixed feelings about what happened. Some officers are very upset, and others say it's an isolated incident, and we have nothing to do with it."

"I say it's an isolated incident within the administrative staff of the chief and does not affect our ability to provide services to the public," he continues. "It stops at that door right there," Craft says, pointing out of the chief's office to the door of the administrative wing of the police department. "I think the majority of the citizens of Lafayette believe the department's integrity is intact."

One recently retired officer believes the Lafayette Police Department reached its lowest point during Hundley's tenure.

"The morale had gotten really bad," he says. "Being a cop is a tough job. A lot of it is really negative. The only thing you have is being able to do something for your career and your community and you should be comfortable under your own roof and your office, and shouldn't have to worry about somebody bugging you or telling you you're on the wrong side of the fence."

The entire episode isn't just an embarrassment for the police force. It's also a black eye for Joey Durel and his administration; Durel appointed Hundley after touting his qualifications and pushing to waive the college degree requirement that would have prevented his childhood friend from even applying for the job.

"Hundley got an opportunity that not too many people in his position would have gotten," says one veteran officer. "They lowered the bar for him. You would have hoped that he would have taken advantage of that opportunity. Unfortunately he took advantage of it in the wrong way."