Man at center of bribery scheme in DA’s office sentenced

Robert Williamson (Photo: Advertiser file photo)

Robert T. Williamson of Lafayette, the former private investigator at the center of a bribery scheme involving the district attorney’s office, was sentenced Friday to six-and-a-half years in a federal prison.

Williamson pleaded guilty June 8 to one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery involving a program that receives federal funds and Social Security fraud.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote, prior to sentencing, said Williamson was the mastermind behind the bribery scheme, convincing and bribing five others with no prior criminal activity into participating.

The scheme involved paying court officials to bypass the normal court process and resolve cases, mostly drunk driving cases, but also drug cases and felony cases, quickly. Williamson also bribed workers at a non-profit and a driver’s education business to forge documents saying his clients completed community service and driver’s ed classes when they did not.

On Friday, when Williamson’s attorney asked for a reduced sentence, claiming there was no victim, Foote disagreed.

“The victim in this matter is the public trust,” she said. “And that’s far worse then if Mr. Williamson had simply stolen money from an individual.”

Williamson addressed the court, saying, “I apologize to the community and the court … I am greatly sorry for what I caused.”

Five counts of bribery and one count of making a false statement to a federal agent were dismissed when Williamson signed the plea agreement.

Even though he’s not an attorney, Williamson was paid to represent people facing criminal charges, mostly drunk driving charges. He allegedly paid Barna Haynes, the long-time secretary to former district attorney Mike Harson, to fill out documents and to schedule his clients to appear before a judge outside of the normal court process.

Greg Williams was the assistant district attorney for those cases. His secretary, Denease Curry, allegedly knew of the payments from Williamson to her boss.

Williamson also allegedly paid Sandra Degeyter, an Acadiana Outreach Center employee, in cash and in-kind contributions to Acadiana Outreach Center. In exchange, she allegedly falsified certificates stating his clients completed court-ordered community service work at the non-profit group when they had not. After Degeyter left the nonprofit, she allegedly split the bribes with Elaine Crump, who still worked at the outreach center.

With the bribery system in place, Williamson’s clients were able to appear before a judge faster than through the normal court process and present “proof” that they completed the usual court-ordered community service work. As a result, they would never lose their driver’s license and their charge would be wiped off their record faster.

The Social Security fraud charge against Williamson is because he received $77,677 in Social Security payments while claiming he had no income even though he was receiving income from the bribery scheme, federal officials claim.

Haynes pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. She is serving 18 months in the Carswell Federal Medical Facility, a medium-security prison/medical facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

Williams and Degeyter both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and were sentenced to two years probation and six months of home confinement.

Curry and Crump both pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony for failing to report the bribes. They were sentenced to two years probation and 200 hours of community service.

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