Matassa in his own words (and Berthelot’s): A Refresher

Kenny Matassa (l) with his attorney (file photo)

Kenny Matassa was indicted by an Ascension Grand Jury on March 10, 2017 which charged him with violating the provisions of Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1461(5).  According to that indictment:

“Between the dates of July 27-29, 2016 the defendant did give or offer to give something of value to Wayne Lawson, a candidate for Gonzales City Council…for the purpose of securing Wayne Lawson’s withdrawal from the election.”

We count three elements to the crime.

Element No. 1: Lawson’s status as candidate.

Division E City Council candidate after being handed envelope of cash and form to withdraw from race.

According to Louisiana’s Secretary of State Wayne Lawson qualified to run for Gonzales City Council, Division E on November 8, 2016.  Lawson garnered 1587 votes or 39% of the total votes cast in losing to Neal Bourque.  On April 19 Judge Tommy Kliebert ruled that, to be a candidate, Lawson must have met certain residency requirements at the time of qualifying for the election.  That ruling was overturned by Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday.

Element No. 2: The giving or offering to give something of value.

  1. Assistance with Food Trailer repairs by Ascension Parish Employee.

On July 27, 2016 at approximately 8:01 a.m. Parish President Kenny Matassa entered Bayou Financial Services in Gonzales.  At 5:50 into the Matassa Tapes-No. 1 the defendant, Kenny Matassa says to Wayne Lawson: “Did Bernie ever get with you on that trailer?”  Lawson needed certain improvements to a food trailer done and the parish president tasked a parish employee to assist him.  “Bernie” Capone provided information to investigators confirming Matassa ordered him to assist Lawson.

Kenny Matassa: “On the trailer deal, I’ma call Bernie and see where he’s at.  Go talk to your wife.” (36:00 into recording).

Matassa’s use of the past tense indicates he and Lawson had spoken about the trailer prior to the morning of July 27. If Matassa ever takes the stand to testify on his own behalf he can clear it up under cross-examination.  The fatal flaw in Unglesby’s trial strategy is Matassa’s inability to communicate, particularly under pressure.

2. Job with Ascension Parish.

“I didn’t know you was looking for a job,” Matassa tells Lawson at 5:55 into recording.  “I’m a tell you what I got right now.  We startin’ up a new road crew.  I’ma need an operator on one of those pieces of equipment…I got a foreman job, and then a couple of other little things.  Prolly the operator one, the road crew would be best.”

Kenny Matassa: “I just got the phone with Boxcar (inaudible) whatever the highest paying was…I could call Donaldsonville right now and get (inaudible) on that…So I can offer you three or four things.  Whatever’s best for you, you know what I mean.  I could do that today.” (10:40 into recording).

Kenny Matassa: “I’ma get Boxcar, we gonna look to see each, uh, what would be the best way to go for you.  You come to work with us and something else comes in there and, you know…” (10:00 into recording).

Kenny Matassa: “When I get out of here I’m gonna call my man to check on those positions, what they pay and whatever.  And you go talk to your wife, you call him up, and then you call me up.” (24:15 into recording).

NOTE:  In Alan “Boxcar” Braud’s recorded interrogation with authorities he stated that Wayne Lawson had applied for employment with Ascension Parish many times before.  Never had he enjoyed the sitting parish president going to great lengths to hand Lawson his pick of jobs, without employment interview or vetting of qualifications for the three or four positions being offered.

3. Return of Lawson’s $150 qualifying fee.

Kenny Matassa: “We gotta get his money back, too.” (17:00 into recording).

KM (to Olin Berthelot): “And you put up 75, and I’ll put up 75.” (22:50 into recording).

4. Additional $$$ bringing the total to $1200.

Element No. 3: Something of value offered for the purpose of securing Lawson’s withdrawal from election.

Kenny Matassa: “We need you to support the whole team. (11:45 into recording).

Asked point blank by Lawson, “So what, exactly are you saying?,” Matassa responds:

“We don’t want you to run against Neal.” (12:48 into recording).

Kenny Matassa was not, to our knowledge, recorded discussing the final amount though Olin Berthelot instructed Donna Michael to bring $900 to Bayou Financial the morning of July 29, a Friday.  According to Ms. Michael’s interview with investigators that occurred between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.  Berthelot spoke to Wayne Lawson by telephone, a conversation which commenced at 9:52 a.m. and became “Matassa Tape, No. 3.”

Wayne Lawson: “What type of dollar amount you told me if I go and sign that affidavit; is that you was gonna’ have me a check, money, whatever?”

Olin Berthelot: “Right, an envelope for you.”

Wayne Lawson: “But you never said the amount.”

Olin Berthelot: “The amount that you and Kenny talked about.”

Wayne Lawson: “That was $1200.”

Olin Berthelot: “That’s correct.”

Wayne Lawson:  “I’m going to your office for the purpose of signing that affidavit, correct?”

Olin Berthelot: “That’s correct.”

Wayne Lawson: “Tammy gonna’ hand me the money, with $1200 in an envelope soon as I come through the door?”

Olin Berthelot: “Well, once you sign we gonna’ go ahead and complete everything.  It’s gonna’ be hand in hand.  You sign and it’ll be presented, the changes we need to take care of the situation…She’s gonna’ take care of everything.  She’s been given instructions…It’s not a check…Once you sign everything’s gonna’ be very smooth.  There’ll be no questions asked on our side.”

If Berthelot cannot withstand cross-examination by Wayne Lawson, how will he hold up under the real thing? Fortunately for Matassa, Berthelot did most of the talking to Lawson which is all well and good so long as Berthelot is willing to take the rap.

On Monday it was revealed that Berthelot has agreed to testify for the prosecution in return for a misdemeanor plea agreement.