INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: Despite felony conviction, councilman still in office and getting paid
WHITE CASTLE - Despite state laws on the books that prohibit an elected official convicted of a felony while in office from continuing to serve, a councilman in White Castle is still in office and still being paid with tax money.
Councilman Broderick "Chris" Landry entered a guilty plea in April for trafficking pre-retail drugs after a raid on a pharmacy in Grosse Tete. That conviction came in federal court and led to the indictments of four people including Landry. State law mandates that elected officials convicted of a felony must be suspended and should not continue to be paid with taxpayer money.
However, that's not what happened in this case.
"The statutory language is clear, 42:1411, once a councilmember is convicted of a felony that's it," LSU Law Professor Ken Levy said. "Their term is over. They may no longer perform official duties and can no longer be paid. I don't know why he is still serving."
But, instead of stepping down after his conviction Landry continued to work. He is still collecting $800 per month from taxpayers for representing them despite the felony conviction.
"Whatever money he's made since pleading guilty, he should return to the community," Levy said. "It's not his money. He was never entitled to it."
The WBRZ Investigative Unit spoke to town attorney Valencia Landry who claimed the conviction isn't final until sentencing.
That's not the case according to two attorney general opinions from 1992 and 2013. Those opinions state a "...guilty plea has the same effect as a conviction" and the official is automatically suspended without pay.
Landry also told the WBRZ Investigative Unit she had conversations with the Attorney General's office about this case back in April but claimed she couldn't remember who she spoke with at the office.
A spokeswoman from the Attorney General's office said they never had a request from White Castle to issue an opinion on whether or not Landry could still be working.
"Our office would not issue a legal opinion to a non-client, which in this case is the White Castle City Council, unless we received an official Attorney General opinion request," Press Secretary Ruth Wisher with the Louisiana Attorney General's Office said. "To be clear, we do not have an opinion request from the White Castle City Council on this matter."
LSU Law Professor Levy said it's troubling if an attorney was aware of this and allowed Landry to stay on the council.
"If there's an attorney involved, I don't know what their explanation is for not asking for the removal of this person," Levy said. "If their excuse is they didn't know the law... That's no excuse, especially for an attorney."
The WBRZ Investigative Unit went looking for Landry at his White Castle home, but relatives there said he was out of town.
Meanwhile, residents in White Castle are demanding better.
"I'm looking forward to a change," resident Linda Hasten said. "I've been asking for a change for a while. The best change is through elections. Those who aren't voting to go out and register, please, so we can turn this town around a little bit more... a little bit more work we have to do"
Landry is scheduled to be sentenced in October. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.