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July 04 08:01 AM

Sheriff frustrated at District Attorney’s Office


“Here we have old and disabled people that are being taken advantage of along with the taxpayers who are funding it, and every case is being dropped.” -Sheriff Steve Prator

The highest-ranking law enforcement official in the parish is “frustrated” — to describe it mildly — with the handling of white collar crime and corruption cases by the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office.

Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator said he is deeply troubled with the fact that his investigators are routinely investigating public corruption cases and making arrests which are never prosecuted by the District Attorney.

The most recent case is the prosecution of James Lester, a 53 -year-old African-American man who was originally arrested on charges of home improvement fraud and filing false public records.

Lester was arrested in August of 2009 during an extensive investigation conducted by the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police that resulted in charges being filed against city of Shreveport inspectors and contractors hired by the Office of Community Development to perform work on homes in Shreve- port’s disadvantaged communities. Although the sheriff’s office arrested the contractors and the city inspectors, District Attorney Charles Scott dropped the charges Charles Scott dropped the charges against the inspectors, and the cases against the contractors have been slowly dragged through the judicial system, according to Prator.

Earlier this month, Lester’s attorney, Carl Franklin, submitted a motion to the court to dismiss the charges filed against Lester due to the case being prescribed. Caddo District Judge Kathernine Dorroh granted the motion and dismissed the case.

Prator is outraged. In fact, sources say Prator has been meeting privately with local attorney Craig Smith, who ran unsuccessfully against Scott six years ago for the District Attorney’s seat. Scott won with 61 percent of the vote after Prator came out with parish-wide robocalls supporting Scott.

According to Prator, the white collar cases involving all African- Americans have been continued dozens of times without going to trial — a practice that Prator says is uncalled for.

Prator points to another case involving the Office of Community Development, in which local contractor Alphonso Williams was arrested on numerous charges. He says that case is set to go to trial on Sept. 8, the same day that he worries the case will prescribe due to the time limit constraints re- quired by law to bring cases to trial. According to police reports, investigators with the sher- Lester was arrested after iff’s office and the Louisiana State Police determined that Lester was hired by the Office of Community Development to install a new airconditioning system, make repairs and insulate the repairs and insulate the repairs and insulate the home of 82-year-old Bessie Broadway, an elderly African-American female at 5704 McAlpine St. in Shreveport for a total price of $25,000.

Investigators determined that Lester did not install a new airhandling unit inside the home, but instead merely changed the sticker on the unit to make it appear that it was a new unit. They also contend that Lester placed only a small amount of insulation in the ceiling of Broadway’s home.

The arrest affidavit states that in some places the insulation was only an inch thick when it should have been an average of 8.4  inches thick. When contacted this week for a comment on the Lester case, Scott said his first assistant district attorney Dale Cox had been handling those cases, and Cox responded with an e-mail explaining their version of how the Lester case was handled. Cox says the District Attorney’s Office will be appealing Judge Dorroh’s ruling to the Sec- ond Circuit Court of Ap- peals. Cox said the District Attorney’s Office decided to drop the home improvement fraud charge because the evidence showed that Lester “had done a significant the houses in ques-  amount of work on tion, in many cases as much as 65 percent to 80 percent of the required work.

We could not use the fact that Mr. Lester may have done shoddy work or incom- plete work to meet our bur- den of legal proof.” den of legal proof.” den of legal proof.” Cox also pointed to the fact that City Inspector Daniel Lecour, who was also arrested for filing false public documents in this case, had provided a certificate of completion to the work in 2008.

He said the DA’s Office decided to pursue the charge of filing a false application.

Cox said, “The gravamen of this offense was Mr. Lester’s false statement on his application (for a contractor’s license) that he had not previously been convicted when, in fact, he had been previously convicted of a misdemeanor offense.” Lester’s attorney (Franklin) filed the motion to dismiss that count of the bill of information on the grounds that it had not been timely filed. Franklin argued that any mis- conduct occurred in 2003, and the  original bill of information was not filed until 2009. The law required that under that interpretation of the facts that the bill of information had to be filed no later than 2007. However, Caddo prosecutors argued that the crime was continuing until 2009, and therefore, the bill of information was filed timely in charging Lester in 2009. Judge Dorroh subsequently ruled in favor of Lester.

Franklin also argued that the Louisiana Con- tractor’s Licensing Board had known that Lester lied on his application as early as 2003 and that their knowledge was imputed to the district attorney’s office since both offices are state agencies.

Broadway’s son, Lugene Broadway, appeared in Caddo District Court when Judge Dorroh handed down the ruling which dismissed the charges against Lester. He was the charges against Lester. He was the charges against Lester. He was visibly upset at the decision and very vocal about his frustration.

Broadway said he had been to court for each one of Lester’s court appearances seeking justice. He said his mother, who is legally blind, also had been coming to the court hearings as much as she could until it was just impossible for her to be there. He said he had decided to speak on behalf of his family who were victimized by the crimes committed and that he was aggravated that he never got the chance to tell the court their story.

Prator said Thursday that these cases merit swift prosecution, and the fact that the cases are allowed to drag out is detrimental to public confidence.

When asked if he had been to  breakfast with Smith earlier this week, Prator said, “Yes, I did. And I will tell you this. I’ve been to eat breakfast with Craig about 10 times in the last month, and I don’t care who knows about it.

“I’m very disappointed. I’m very disheartened. Once again, these cases of public corruption are not getting prosecuted. Here we have old and disabled people that are being taken advantage of along with the taxpayers who are funding it, and every case is being dropped. Next month, it will be five years since these arrests were made. The case of theft and the abuse to this old lady had already been dropped. Don’t get confused about this.

“The real thing is that this family has been taken advantage of, and nobody has paid for it except the taxpayers. And that’s because of a lack of prosecution.

Many of these victims are still alive and they have been reported as dead, and that simply was not true. This case on Lester was continued 17 times and then reset 11 times. And then the most egregious charge was just dropped, not prosecuted. And these charges were the ones that the district attorney’s office came up with themselves to get the warrants. They worked hand-inhand with us and said these charges were appropriate.

“I get calls about corruption and asked why more isn’t being done about corruption. It’s so frustrating to me. I’ve never had a single discussion with the district attorney to explain why these cases are being dropped.

“You can’t get mad and appeal the judge’s decision. It’s been five years. Give me a break,” said Prator.

When contacted and asked if he plans to seek the office of district attorney this year, Smith said, “That decision has not yet been made, but I have had many people asking me to run.”

Smith refused to answer our question when asked if Prator had asked him to run.

“I’m not about to discuss what was talked about in a private conversation,” said Smith.

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