Prosecutors seek to overturn cap on restitution

Mike Thibodeaux

A motion filed last month seeks to overturn a $50,000 cap on payment for a forensic accountant imposed in July as part of former Iberia Parish Clerk of Court Michael Thibodeaux’s sentence on 14 counts of racketeering, malfeasance, theft and other charges.

After the sentencing on July 30, Assistant District Attorney Craig Colwart said that he was disappointed in the sentence and that the 16th Judicial Court District Attorney’s Office would be analyzing the punishment 16th Judicial District Court Judge Lewis Pitman handed down. That evaluation resulted in the Aug. 28 filing asking for a reconsideration of Thibodeaux’s sentence.

According to the motion, it was inappropriate for Pitman to place a cap on restitution, even if it was only one portion of the sentence.

Pitman had ordered that a forensic accountant be hired, at Thibodeaux’s expense, to evaluate the records of nearly $1 million in funds that had been “swept” from a fiduciary account for future court costs into the Clerk of Court’s operating account. Pitman set the $50,000 cap on that portion of the sentence.

In doing so, Pitman also disregarded the prosecution’s recommendation that Thibodeaux be ordered to pay $200,000 for the audit, with no cap on possible restitution.

Prosecutors also had asked for Thibodeaux to be sentenced to a total sentence of 15 years, with all but seven years suspended. Pitman instead ordered Thibodeaux serve 30 months in jail on seven counts of malfeasance in office, but suspended any additional jail time on racketeering, theft, perjury and filing false public records counts.

At the sentencing hearing, Thibodeaux’s lawyer John McLindon argued that Thibodeaux did not take any funds, making any restitution for loss moot.

“The economic impact is zero,” McLindon said. “No one is out any money. The funds were transferred from one public account to another public account.”

In the motion, prosecutors also argued that even if Thibodeaux did not physically take any funds from the Clerk of Court’s Office, he benefited from the monies which were moved to the operating account and subsequently used to pay a portion of his deferred compensation plan. They also argue that the Clerk’s Office suffered a loss due to Thibodeaux’s prosecution, including time that employees were away from the office to provide evidence in the investigation and trial, as well as the time spent correcting the office’s accounts and refunding monies wrongly moved into the office’s operating account.

“The state also notes that there are ‘costs unquantifiable by dollars’ resulting from the defendant’s conduct,” the motion reads. “The damage to the public trust in government institutions and the integrity of the judicial system cannot be paid for in dollars.”

The District Attorney’s Office also filed a motion asking the court to to test the surety of Thibodeaux’s bond, which was put in place after the sentencing. According to the motion, the $50,000 bond is secured with funds held in Thibodeaux’s individual retirement account. Although the account holds more than enough cash to cover the bond, the motion claims there are no liens against the account balance to insure that the $50,000 would not be moved or otherwise encumbered or spent.

Pitman has set a hearing date for Oct. 1 for arguments on the motions.

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