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|Federal grand jury indicts district attorney Coenen, two other men|
"We'll clean their clock in court and clearly show that Billy Coenen is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing."
That was noted defense attorney Mike Small's response to a federal grand jury indictment of Coenen, 5th Judicial District Attorney.
Coenen was indicted today in Shreveport on charges of conspiracy and mail fraud surrounding a land deal involving Poverty Point Reservoir in Richland Parish.
Also indicted were Monroe engineer and businessman Terry Denmon and Poverty Point Reservoir District executive director Mike Thompson.
Thompson was previously indicted by a federal grand jury within the past year over charges stemming from a federal investigation of Poverty Point Reservoir.
According to a copy of the indictment obtained by The Franklin Sun, beginning in 1995, Coenen, Denmon and Thompson conspired to buy land near the reservoir and then used publicly owned equipment and public money to make improvements to the land before selling it for some $250,000.
Coenen provided legal services to the reservoir district and Denmon performed engineering tasks at the 3,000-acre lake, which was built by the state at Poverty Point, according to the indictment. Both men were paid for their services by the PPRD, which made them employees of the state, the indictment said.
In February, 1995, the group bought a five-acre tract of land in the reservoir district for $16,800, according to the indictment.
Because the three men each had interests in the reservoir district's management, they bought the property through an unnamed agent, according to the indictment.
In July, 1998, Thompson ordered PPRD employees to remove a stand of trees on the property, the indictment said.
According to the indictment, it was the first of many improvements Thompson would make to the property before the group subdivided the tract into five lots in 2000.
Eventually, the group sold all five lots and pocketed some $250,000, according to the indictment.
This prosecution is wrongheaded and frankly represents federal government overreaching at its absolute worst," said Small, of Alexandria.
"This assistant U.S. attorney has taken an alleged violation of the state code of ethics, which never occurred, and parlayed it into a federal criminal case," Small said, referring to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mignonne Griffing, who is a native of Sicily Island.
"It is a sad example of a very disturbing trend on the part of federal prosecutors to meddle into purely state matters where they have no business whatsoever," Small continued. "We'll clean their clock in court and clearly show that Billy Coenen is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing.
"Unfortunately, the publicity surrounding this indictment will have already besmirched the reputation of a decent man who has tirelessly devoted the last 30 years of his life to aggressively prosecuting real criminals in the jurisdiction where he lives and serves as district attorney."
The indictment cites Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1112, which states, "no public servant…shall participate in a transaction in which he has a personal substantial economic interest of which he may be reasonably expected to know involving the governmental entity."
The indictment contends that, because each of the three men worked as consultants for PPRD, they were forbidden from profiting from land transactions involving Poverty Point.