GONZALES – Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot were each indicted on one count of bribery to get a candidate to withdraw from an election.
The charge is a felony and carries up to two years in prison and/or a $2,000 fine if convicted. Both men posted a $5,000 bond and were released on Friday.
An 11-person grand jury heard a total of six witnesses on two separate occasions in the court of 23rd Judicial District Judge Tess Stromberg and were unanimous in their decision.
A. Wayne Lawson made the allegations against the defendants and testified last month. Lawson was running for Gonzales City Council against incumbent Councilman Neal Bourque, who testified Friday, and claims Matassa and Berthelot offered him $1,200 and a parish job to drop out the race in July 2016.
Conversations of the alleged bribery were audio recorded secretly and posted on the blog by owner Wade Petite accusing the defendants of bribery. Petite, a critic of Matassa who also ran for Gonzales City Council, was subpoenaed earlier but wasn’t called as a witness.
The Attorney General’s office of Jeff Landry took over the investigation after the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s office of Ricky Babin recused themselves in November because Assistant District Attorney Chuck Long donated to Matassa’s campaign. The prosecuting team includes Assistant Attorney General Jeff Traylor and Director of Criminal Division Brandon J. Fremin.
Other witnesses Friday were parish health director Christy Burnett and Tammy Kundler and Donna Michael who work for Berthelot at his finance companies. Earlier testimony came from Lawson and an investigator with the Attorney General.