Lawyer: False claim was filed

An attorney for the Iberia Parish Council told the governing body Wednesday he believed New Iberia attorneys Michael Moity and Shane Romero were involved in the filing of a false and misleading complaint against 16th Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney on behalf of Parish President Romo Romero.

Donald Washington’s conclusion comes following a two-year investigation into Romo Romero’s office, the results of which he presented to the Parish Council Wednesday. The investigation surrounded a complaint apparently filed by the parish president citing numerous law violations by Haney’s office.

Romo Romero’s complaint, sent to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office in February 2012, alleged Haney’s office doled out personal health insurance in the form of bonuses that constituted public payroll fraud, abused its authority for political activity, ignored conflicts of interest with parish risk management and continued inappropriate involvement in an affair after recusal.

The Parish Council requested Washington investigate the process by which the affadavits were secured and the complaint prepared, according to the report.

Washington pointed out Wednesday that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell ruled in April 2012 that not only are the insurance premiums “unequivocally legal” and widely practiced throughout the state, but Iberia Parish pioneered that action in 1973 while Romo Romero was a member of the Iberia Parish Police Jury.

Four of the affadavits involved in the complaint — those signed by Executive Assistant Kelly Ball, then-Human Resources Director Peggy Migues, then-Planning and Zoning Director Charles Rader and then-Finance Director Kim Segura — were not only misleading, but false, Washington said.

Ball’s statement included a sentence stating Segura had directly told her there was no intergovernmental agreement to allow the district attorney’s office health insurance payments. This conflicted with Segura’s statement that she was merely unaware of any agreement.

Washington said Segura claims to have even instructed Moity, who notarized each affadavit, to amend hers to reflect such before she approved it.

“If what Ms. Segura tells me is true, then Ms. Ball’s statement is false,” he told the Parish Council. “I’m not saying Ms. Ball did it intentionally. I’m saying whoever prepared Ms. Ball’s affadavit did.”

Washington said he believes Shane Romero gathered the documentation used in preparing the complaint and statements and Moity notarized them, all with the knowledge they were either misleading or false.

“We do have the opinion that Ms. Ball has a prominent role in the parish president’s affairs,” he added. “Some have said she even runs the office.”

Rader’s statement in the complaint said Assistant District Attorney Bo Duhe met with him in the weeks leading up to the 2011 election and used the power of his office to coerce support for incumbent Parish President Ernest Freyou rather than Romo Romero.

Washington said Rader denied that in their interview and said Romo Romero, Shane Romero and former administrative employee Holly Leleux-Thubron actually pressured Rader to support Romo Romero’s candidacy.

Migues, whose statement told the same story, also denied it actually happened, and explained she left her middle name out of her signature at the time to indicate she was coerced.

Washington also played several video clips of Romo Romero’s federal deposition regarding a lawsuit filed by Leleux-Thubron over the termination of her employment. Romo Romero’s variety of answers to questions indicated he was unfamiliar with how the complaint was filed and that, despite Caldwell’s opinion he should not, he still consulted his son on various parish government matters.

The complaint features a significant amount of “legalese,” as Washington called it, and bore numerous citations specific to how lawyers are trained to write and research. He said it would be “virtually impossible” for Romo Romero or Ball to have prepared the complaint or other documents.

“There is a ghostwriter, or someone assisting in writing these legal documents,” Washington said, adding he believed it was either Moity or Shane Romero. “That should be pretty intuitively obvious to even the casual observer.”

Washington also presented evidence, as provided by an unnamed state senator, indicating Shane Romero attempted to use the state senator to broker a deal between his father and Haney regarding the investigation.

That proposed deal outlines a scenario in which the parish president’s office takes over municipal risk management, the Parish Council drops Washington’s investigation, Romo Romero agrees to the district attorney’s office health insurance payments and no assistant district attorney — including Vincent Borne — would run to replace District Judge John Conery and would instead wait for District Judge James McClelland, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or Judge Ed Leonard, who’s age terms him out of re-election, to create a vacancy.

Following the presentation, Washington said he was unsure whether criminal charges would result from his investigation. He pointed out Caldwell warned Romo Romero in 2012 that filing false reports to generate a legal investigation constituted a felony crime in the state and that despite Moity’s, Shane Romero’s and attorney Lewis Unglesby’s obvious involvement with Romo Romero’s affairs, the Parish Council had not approved any of them, which violates the parish home rule charter.

Washington said Ball, Moity, Romo Romero and Shane Romero all declined numerous requests for interview.

Shane Romero, who is running for New Iberia City Court judge this year, issued a statement this morning downplaying Washington’s findings and said he was “paid to tell the council exactly what they wanted.”

“I question the validity of these purchased findings and the timing only a few weeks before an election,” the statement said. “The latest accusations are nothing more than that, and I will not be bullied or intimidated by a vindictive council or any other politician.”

In an interview this morning, Moity also made a statement.

“I’m not sure how a notary can make a false statement,” he said. “It must be election time.”

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