Judge acquits Ascension Parish president of bribery
Jul. 12, 2018
GONZALES, La. (AP) — A judge has acquitted a Louisiana local official of bribery.
Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa was accused of bribing a candidate to withdraw from a Gonzales City Council race. Matassa said he just lent money to a friend who was having trouble.
State District Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that Wayne Lawson had to drop out of the race to get $1,200 and a parish job, news outlets reported.
"Thank God, and I believe in the legal system," Matassa told reporters after the ruling Wednesday. "My momma always said, 'The devil works 24/7, but God is great.'"
Businessman Olin Berthelot, who was indicted with Matassa and testified for the prosecution, backed up Matassa's claims, WAFB-TV reported .
Kliebert said it was clear that Matassa and Berthelot wanted Lawson to drop out of the race. However, he said, they also appeared to indicate that Lawson would get money and a job even if he stayed in, and there were suggestions the offers had been made before Lawson challenged the City Council incumbent, The Advocate reported.
Matassa waived a jury trial. Kliebert ruled without hearing defense witnesses.
Lawson and local news website publisher Wade Petite had secretly recorded Lawson, Matassa and Berthelot. An article on Petite's website, posted Aug. 1, 2016, was based in part on the recordings and accused Matassa and Berthelot of bribery.