- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

GONZALES, La. (AP) - Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and a Gonzales businessman face charges that they tried to bribe a man to drop out of a Gonzales City Council race last year.

The men were indicted Friday, each on one count of offering something of value to get a candidate to withdraw from an election. Attorney General Jeff Landry says Matassa and Olin Berthelot offered A. Wayne Lawson money and a government job to drop out. But Matassa denies wrongdoing, and said Landry has improperly taken the side of his political enemies.

The grand jury heard from four witnesses Friday, including Gonzales City Councilman Neal Bourque, and two others last month. Lawson was running against Bourque, and Landry says Matassa and Berthelot had several discussions with Lawson in July about quitting the race.

“We were very pleased with the outcome today. It’s what the facts dictated,” Assistant Attorney General Jeff Traylor told The Advocate (https://bit.ly/2lLZB86).

If convicted, Matassa and Berthelot each face up to two years in state prison or a $2,000 fine.

Matassa defense lawyer Lewis Unglesby said his client had already turned himself in and posted $5,000 bail. Steven Moore, defense lawyer for Bethelot said his client would do likewise.

Unglesby told The Advocate (https://bit.ly/2lLZB86) that Landry’s prosecution is political and disputes whether Matassa violated any law. He also claims the law that Matassa is charged with violating is unconstitutional.

“Last time I checked, candidates have been making agreements with potential candidates and giving them jobs in their administration if they get elected since Louisiana started,” Unglesby said.

Unglesby said it was improper for Landry and Brandon Fremin, Landry’s criminal division chief, to meet with Parish Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee and other residents who are critics of Matassa when they were complaining about the slow pace of the inquiry.

Landry’s office has said the Feb. 2 meeting was only to discuss the grand jury process.

News website publisher Wade Petite accused Matassa and Berthelot of the bribe in an Aug. 1 story based in part on secret recordings.

Lawson and Petite say Lawson recorded attempts by Matassa and Berthelot to bribe him with $1,200 to fix a food truck trailer and the offer of a parish job if he left the race.

Ascension Parish District Attorney Ricky Babin recused himself on the eve of a previous grand jury meeting because employees of his office had given political donations to Matassa.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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