Monday, October 22, 2007

Two Bondsmen Serve as “Middlemen”

Caddo District Judge Michael Walker and Juvenile Court Judge Vernon Claville corrupted the judicial system by taking bribes in return for favorable rulings in cases before them, federal prosecutors said today in announcing a racketeering indictment against the two men.

Walker's alleged actions included reducing bonds for accused drug dealers to amounts the defendants could make in return for kickbacks, investigators said. Walker, who presides over drug cases, received both money and prescription drugs, investigators said. The bribery began in 2004, the year after Walker went to the drug court, the indictment charged.

Claville allegedly took kickbacks to lift holds so individuals could get out of jail, the indictment charged.

"They are indicted for selling justice," the FBI's Matt Chapman said at a news conference today at the United States Court House in Shreveport.

Walker, 57, took an indefinite leave from the bench today. The Louisiana Supreme Court has been forwarded a copy of the indictment and will decide whether to suspend him while the case is pending.

Claville, 56, also turned over his caseload to another judge and officials of Juvenile Court notified the Supreme Court of the 24-count indictment.

Both men will make their initial court appearances in two weeks.

Neither Walker's attorney, Richard King, nor Claville's lawyer, Ron Miciotto, returned repeated calls for comment.

The investigation, code-named Broken Gavel, centers in large part on whether Walker would take bribes if defendants posted bonds after their bails had been reduced to affordable amounts, prosecutors said. Two bondsmen -- one of whom was indicted -- acted as middlemen, the indictment said.

Walker, who received cash and "other things of value," would make himself available to quickly set bonds, reduce bonds, recall arrest warrants and remove probation holds on accused drug dealers and users, U.S. Attorney Donald Washington said.

Those "other things" were prescription pain killers, investigators said.

Claville, in return for cash, would remove "holds" on people so they could get out of jail, Washington said.

"The fox is out of the hen house," said Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, whose office initiated the investigation.

Agents obtained wiretaps of Walker's cell phone and agents conducted surveillance of the two judges during the nine-month investigation, sources said.

Also indicted was Shreveport bail bondsman Larry Williams, 41, the owner of A-Instant bail bonds.

The acts alleged in the indictment occurred this year, the grand jury said. The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted as charged.

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