Legislator, Pardon Chairman Deny Bribery Charges
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Two state officials accused of agreeing to pardon a convicted murderer for a $130,000 bribe say they did nothing wrong.
State Rep. Joe Delpit and Pardon Board Chairman Howard Marsellus Jr. were indicted Thursday on one count each of public bribery and conspiracy to commit public bribery.
″I am confident that this whole matter will be cleared up,″ said Delpit, 46, who became House Speaker Pro Tem in 1984 with the backing of Gov. Edwin Edwards.
″I haven’t sold any pardons,″ said Marsellus, 53, who was appointed by Edwards in 1984. ″I can’t sell a pardon to anybody.″
The two men were indicted after accepting cash payments from an undercover officer posing as the friend of an inmate serving time for second-degree murder, State Police Commander Wiley McCormick said.
Investigators said they made tape and video recordings of Marsellus agreeing to secure a pardon, first for $25,000, then for $130,000, McCormick said.
Marsellus accepted an initial payment of $5,000 on Friday, the indictment said. Delpit allegedly accepted a $25,000 payment from the agent on the front porch of Marsellus’ home early Wednesday.
The money was recovered during a search of the two men’s homes Thursday, McCormick said.
They were arrested and released on $50,000 bond several hours later.
The Pardon Board can only make recommendations for pardons. The governor must decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations.
Edwards was informed of the investigation early on, McCormick said.
″He said, ’Let the chips fall where they may,‴ McCormick said.
Edwards said he would ask Marsellus to take a leave of absence without pay until the case was decided, but would not seek his resignation.
″He has not been proven guilty,″ said Edwards, who was acquitted in May of federal racketeering charges.
The investigation began in March with allegations that Marsellus had solicited bribes for favorable Pardon Board votes, McCormick said.
Detectives were surprised when Delpit entered the alleged plot, he said.
″Marsellus stated that a high-ranking state official’s cooperation was necessary to guarantee the pardon would be secured,″ a state police news release said. ″The undercover agent was then introduced to state Rep. Joe Delpit and was told Delpit was ’the man.‴
McCormick would not say what Delpit’s role in the pardon process might be.
Edwards, in a news conference after the indictments were issued, said Delpit had asked him to support several pardon applications, but no more so than many other legislators.
Edwards said he sent his executive counsel, Bill Roberts, to advise Marsellus last Friday that his office was under investigation and that he ″had better get his house in order.″
″He obviously didn’t listen, if he heard it at all,″ Edwards said.