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|Status conference scheduled in Thompson, Denmon, Coenen case|
Three notable northeastern Louisiana men who are accused of conspiracy and mail fraud will move one step closer to trial next month when a federal magistrate hears how preparations for the trial are developing.
Poverty Point Executive Director Mike Thompson, 5th Judicial District Attorney Billy Coenen and Monroe engineer Terry Denmon were indicted by a federal grand jury in July on multiple counts of mail fraud and conspiracy stemming from a real estate transaction in the Poverty Point Reservoir District in Richland Parish.
U.S. Magistrate Karen Hayes will hold a telephone status conference with defense attorneys and federal prosecutors on Jan. 22, 2009, to determine if the case is still on track for an August 2009 trial.
According to the indictment of Coenen, Denmon and Thompson, beginning in 1995, the three men conspired to purchase land near Poverty Point reservoir and then used publicly owned equipment and publicly owned money to make improvements to the land before selling it for some $250,000.
Denmon worked as a contractor for the reservoir district to provide engineering services. Coenen, who also maintains a private law practice, performed legal services for the reservoir district. Both men were paid for those services by Poverty Point Reservoir District, a state agency, according to the indictment.
In February 1995, the group purchased a five-acre tract of land in the reservoir district for $16,800, the indictment said.
Because the three men played a role in the reservoir district's management, they purchased the property through an unnamed agent, according to the indictment.
In July 1998, Thompson ordered reservoir district employees to remove a stand of trees on the property, the indictment said.
According to the indictment, it was the first of many improvements Thompson made to the property before the group subdivided the tract into five lots in 2000.
Eventually, the group sold all five lots and pocketed some $250,000, according to the indictment.
Speaking at the time of the indictment, noted defense attorney Mike Small said the case amounted to over-reaching on the part of the federal government.
"This prosecution is wrongheaded and frankly represents federal government overreaching at its absolute worst," said Small.
"This assistant U.S. attorney has taken an alleged violation of the state code of ethics, which never occurred, and parlayed it into a federal criminal case," Small said, referring to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mignonne Griffing, who is prosecuting the case for the government.
"It is a sad example of a very disturbing trend on the part of federal prosecutors to meddle into purely state matters where they have no business whatsoever," Small continued. "We'll clean their clock in court and clearly show that Billy Coenen is absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing.
"Unfortunately, the publicity surrounding this indictment will have already besmirched the reputation of a decent man who has tirelessly devoted the last 30 years of his life to aggressively prosecuting real criminals in the jurisdiction where he lives and serves as district attorney."
The indictment cites Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1112, which states, "no public servant…shall participate in a transaction in which he has a personal substantial economic interest of which he may be reasonably expected to know involving the governmental entity."
The indictment contends that, because each of the three men worked as consultants for the Poverty Point Reservoir District, they were forbidden from profiting from land deals therein.
Meanwhile, no trial date has been set on another matter involving Thompson and Poverty Point. In that case in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, federal prosecutors allege Thompson committed extortion and theft involving property Thompson owned at Poverty Point.
Thompson was scheduled to go to trial on the charges in January, but the case was continued because his attorney, Small, currently is tied up in trial on another case in Lafayette.