Are you keeping your New Year's resolutions?|
Story Archives: Coenen pleads not guilty
- 2013 - 334 articles
- 2012 - 1160 articles
- 2011 - 1177 articles
- 2010 - 810 articles
- 2009 - 779 articles
- 2008 - 949 articles
|Coenen pleads not guilty|
Not guilty on all counts.
That's how three northeastern Louisiana men, including 5th Judicial District Attorney Billy Coenen, pled Friday in U.S. District Court in Monroe to nine charges of mail fraud and conspiracy.
Besides Coenen, Poverty Point Executive Director Mike Thompson – a brother of state Sen. Francis Thompson – and Monroe businessman Terry Denmon were charged July 21 with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud stemming from a 1998 land deal at Poverty Point in Richland Parish. Denmon is an engineer by trade.
According to federal prosecutors, the trio inappropriately profited from real estate holdings in the Poverty Point Reservoir District after reservoir district employees performed improvements to the property the men bought for some $16,000 and later sold for roughly $250,000.
Prosecutors contend Coenen, Denmon and Thompson conspired to conceal their involvement in the real estate transaction.
Defense attorney Mike Small told reporters gathered on the courthouse steps he was confident his client would be exonerated.
Also settled at the hearing was a potential conflict of interest issue with Small's representation of Coenen in the Poverty Point real estate matter.
Small also serves as Thompson's attorney in separate case involving Poverty Point.
Federal Magistrate Karen Hayes questioned Small's ability to equally represent Coenen and Thompson, though she granted a motion to allow Small to represent both clients in the separate matters in spite of questions raised by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mignonne Griffing. Griffing is prosecuting both cases for the government.
Griffing suggested Small's representation of Coenen could be compromised if the government decided to offer Thompson a plea agreement in either or both of the cases.
Small dismissed such talk and said he did not expect a plea agreement to be offered.
"There is no conflict," Small told Hayes. "We know the facts of this case."
Hayes did not set a trial date. However, attorneys for the government and the defendants will take part in an Aug. 22, status hearing via teleconference.
At that point, Hayes said she will assess the progress defense attorneys are making in sifting through more than 60 boxes of government documents.
According to the indictment, beginning in 1995, Coenen, Denman and Thompson conspired to purchase land near the reservoir and then used public equipment and money to make improvements to the land before selling it for some $250,000.
Coenen provided legal services to the reservoir district and Denman performed engineering tasks at the 3,000-acre lake. Both men were paid for those services by the PPRD, which made them employees of the state.
In February 1995, the group purchased a 5-acre tract of land in the reservoir district for $16,800.
Because the three men each had interests in the reservoir district's management, they purchased the property through an unnamed agent, according to the document.
In July 1998, Thompson ordered PPRD employees to remove a stand of trees on the property.
According to the indictment, it was the first of many improvements Thompson would make on 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.
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 deals therein.
If convicted on all counts, Coenen, Denmon and Thompson each face 165 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.