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Story Archives: Coenen attorney expects charges to be dropped
|Coenen attorney expects charges to be dropped|
A recent Supreme Court decision bodes well for 5th Judicial District Attorney Billy Coenen, who has been waiting with codefendants for a U.S. District Court ruling after being indicted in 2008 by a federal grand jury on nine charges of mail fraud and conspiracy.
Defense attorney Mike Small believes the Supreme Court's opinion in the case of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling means charges will be dropped for his client, who was indicted with Poverty Point Executive Director Mike Thompson — a brother of state Sen. Francis Thompson — and Monroe businessman Terry Denmon.
"There have been no new developments in the Coenen case since the decision Skilling by the Supreme Court in the Skilling case came down last week, but that decision leaves prosecutors no choice but to dismiss my client's case," said Small.
Coenen, Thompson and Denmon are facing charges 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.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court decided to limit the scope of the indictment's language in reviewing Skilling's conviction, agreeing with his appeal that the "honest services" law used to convict him was unconstitutionally vague.
The court's majority opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, proscribed the law to "a criminal defendant who participated in a bribery or kickback scheme."
"There is not even the slightest suggestion or a charge that bribery and kickbacks were involved in the Coenen indictment, so the case will have to be dismissed," Small said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment Tuesday on the Supreme Court's decision as it could relate to the Coenen case.
According to the indictment, beginning in 1995, Coenen, Denmon 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 Denmon 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, the men could each face 165 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.