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|District attorney Coenen, Denmon, Thompson plead not guilty to federal charges|
Not guilty on all counts.
That's how three northeastern Louisiana men, including 5th Judicial District Attorney Bill Coenen, pled Friday in U.S. District Court in Monroe to nine charges of mail fraud and conspiracy.
Besides Coenen, Poverty Point Executive Director Mike Thompson--a brother of state Sen. Francis Thompson--and Monroe businessman Terry Denmon were charged July 21 with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud stemming from a 1998 land deal at Poverty Point in Richland Parish. Denmon is an engineer by trade.
According to federal prosecutors, the trio inappropriately profited from real estate holdings in the Poverty Point Reservoir District after reservoir district employees performed improvements to the property the men bought for some $16,000 and later sold for roughly $250,000.
Prosecutors contend Coenen, Denmon and Thompson conspired to conceal their involvement in the real estate transaction.
Defense attorney Mike Small told reporters gathered on the courthouse steps he was confident his client would be exonerated.
Also settled at the hearing was a potential conflict of interest issue with Small's representation of Coenen in the Poverty Point real estate matter.
Small also serves as Thompson's attorney in separate case involving Poverty Point.
Federal Magistrate Karen Hayes questioned Small's ability to equally represent Coenen and Thompson, though she granted a motion to allow Small to represent both clients in the separate matters in spite of questions raised by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mignonne Griffing. Griffing is prosecuting both cases for the government.
Griffing suggested Small's representation of Coenen could be compromised if the government decided to offer Thompson a plea agreement in either or both of the cases.
Small dismissed such talk and said he did not expect a plea agreement to be offered.
"There is no conflict," Small told Hayes. "We know the facts of this case."
Hayes did not set a trial date. However, attorneys for the government and the defendants will take part in an Aug. 22, status hearing via teleconference.
At that point, Hayes said she will assess the progress defense attorneys are making in sifting through more than 60 boxes of government documents.
If convicted on all counts, Coenen, Denmon and Thompson each face 165 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.