Posted: Oct 26, 2010 9:09 PM by Alison Haynes
Updated: Oct 27, 2010 9:57 AM
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed charges that former state Sen. Heulette "Clo" Fontenot hid a $100,000 cash campaign loan from two federally insured lenders.
Fontenot, 48, R-Livingston, was indicted in May for allegedly soliciting and receiving a $100,000 loan from two unnamed businessmen in July 1999 that he never repaid in connection with his state Senate campaign. Federal prosecutors have said that Fontenot hid the money under insulation in his attic and burned the bags that had contained the money in his backyard in order to hide evidence of the alleged transaction.
Louisiana's campaign finance laws place limits on how much money a candidate can receive from an individual or business.
The indictment also says Fontenot signed applications for bank loans between 2001 and 2004 in which he falsely certified that all his debts were listed. It says the applications didn't list the loan to his campaign.
U.S. District Judge James J. Brady ruled that the loan was a misdemeanor violation of state campaign finance laws and not a federal felony.
Case law established in unrelated cases and involving other individuals, Brady said, shows that campaign contributions intended to subvert state reporting laws cannot be considered legitimate debts.
"Because the loan never existed, the defendant never made a false statement," the judge ruled.
Fontenot and his defense team expressed gratitude for Brady's decision.
"There wasn't any loss here, ever," said attorney Lewis O. Unglesby. "There is no victim.
"It was the correct decision."
U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr., however, however wasn't as sure.
"While I respect Judge Brady's decision, I do not agree with his decision," Cazayoux said in a written statement. "My office will review his reasoning in detail and decide whether or not to appeal" to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Fontenot, a Republican from Livingston, served one term in the state House and two terms in the state Senate. Before he took office in the Louisiana Legislature in 1996, he was an alderman in Livingston Parish.