NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Attorneys for former Louisiana prosecutor Walter Reed argued before a Fifth Circuit panel Tuesday that he did not misuse public money and asked the New Orleans-based appeals court to throw out his corruption conviction.
Counsel for the federal government, Reed’s attorneys argued, succeeded in “confusing the jury” during Reed’s 11-day trial in 2016 – otherwise he never would have been convicted, they claim.
From 1985 until January 2015, Reed served as district attorney for both Washington and St. Tammany Parishes – both located on the far outer peripheries of New Orleans.
In April 2015, the federal government slapped Reed with a 19-count indictment, alleging conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and mail fraud, and also claiming he misreported his earnings on his taxes for four years.
Following a trial in Eastern Louisiana federal court, a jury found Reed guilty of 18 charges. He was found not guilty on one count of money laundering.
Reed, 71, was sentenced to four years in prison last year by U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, who presided over Reed’s trial. Reed’s son, Steven Reed, a co-defendant, was sentenced to probation.
In handing down the sentence, however, Judge Fallon agreed that the elder Reed could stay out of jail until the appeals process has been exhausted.
Reed’s case focused extensively on his alleged misuse of campaign funds for personal expenses – including dinners, parties and flowers – and on allegations Reed misused funds from consultation work he provided as DA to a public hospital. Federal prosecutors said Reed deposited the money that should have gone to the DA’s office into his own personal bank account.
Before a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges Tuesday, Reed’s lawyer argued that the money he was accused of misspending was actually properly and legally used.
“Under state law, a Louisiana official can use campaign funds for re-election, or for public office,” Richard Simmons Jr. told the panel.
“Everything that Walter Reed – and, subsequently, Steven Reed – did was legal,” he added.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg, however, called the case a classic instance of fraud.
When Walter and Steven Reed “used public funds for their own means, they committed fraud,” Ginsberg said. “It is as simple as that.”
Ginsberg called Reed’s position as a politician “merely a context.” It doesn’t matter that Reed was an elected official, he said.
“This is simply a textbook fraud case,” Ginsberg said.
Steven Reed’s attorney, Autumn Alycia Town, told the three-judge panel Tuesday that the Reeds’ actions were not “fraudulent, if what you’re using the money for is provided for under law.”
Walter Reed “was not stealing the money, he was giving it to churches, buying meals for his constituents, sending flowers to constituents,” Town said. “This is not a fraud case.”
Touching on the defense that the jury was merely confused about what the Reeds were being charged with, Town said the verdict was unfairly arrived at.
“If the jury doesn’t understand what the defendant is being charged with, they can’t make a fair decision,” Town said.
The parties appeared before the panel judges for about 40 minutes. Both Walter and Steven Reed were present in the packed courtroom but they did not address the judges.
After the hearing, Walter Reed’s attorney, Simmons, said it will likely be weeks before a decision is issued.
After serving as district attorney for Washington and St. Tammany Parishes for 30 years, Reed decided not to seek re-election in the fall of 2014. At the time, the FBI was already investigating fraud allegations against him.
Tuesday’s Fifth Circuit panel was comprised of U.S. Circuit Judges Patrick E. Higginbotham, Jerry E. Smith and Edith Brown Clement.