Parish President says lawsuit is “outrageous” and “baseless”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Jennifer Anderson was convicted of “computer fraud.” This story contains more detailed information which shows that the crime she pleaded guilty to was “fourteen counts of fraud and related activity in connection with access devices” according to federal court records.
ExposeDat blog legacy continues
Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove – usually reticent to discuss litigation – has plenty to say about a suit that alleges he and other parish officials conspired to violate the civil rights of an anonymous blogger and silence the resulting criticism.
“It’s an outrageous accusation, it is frivolous and it is baseless,” Dove said concerning the suit, brought before federal court in New Orleans by a Houma police officer, Wayne Anderson, and his wife, Jennifer.
The suit – an extension of a legal action originally brought solely against Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter – names the sheriff, Dove, and Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District President Tony Alford, individually and in their official capacities, as well as the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government and the Sheriff’s Office. It is rooted in an investigation begun in August of a complaint by Alford that statements on the ExposeDat website violated Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute. As a result of the complaint, deputies, acting on a warrant obtained from District Judge Randy Bethancourt, seized laptops and cell phones at the Anderson residence. The Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal determined that the warrant was improper and violated the Andersons’ constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure. The court papers more recently filed allege a violation of First Amendment rights.
“The website, which was a lawful exercise of free speech, was ultimately individually and jointly targeted by Larpenter, Dove and Alford,” the court papers, filed by the Andersons’ attorney, Jerri Smitko, allege. “These defendants conspired together to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the author (Plaintiff) of the website … and the plaintiffs suffered damages as a result.”
The wording of the suit begs the question of whether it contains a tacit admission that one or both of the Andersons are in reality the fictitious “John Turner,” who is the author of the blog. Critics of Larpenter and the other officials have suggested that the seizure of the computers – which were never actually examined – were intended solely to unmask “John Turner.”
Larpenter has in the past stated that his officers acted in good faith by obtaining and executing the warrant.
The suit seeks unspecified punitive and actual damages with interest and attorney fees, court costs and whatever other relief the court finds appropriate.
The Andersons, the suit states, suffered loss of earning capacity and employment as well as employment opportunity, loss to their reputations, property damage, emotional pain and mental anguish as well as loss of pension and retirement benefits.
The ExposeDat site discussed business and personal relationships between Dove, the parish government, Larpenter and Alford, focusing on public contracts between Dove and Alford, through his insurance firm Alford, Staples, Laeyre and Robichaux. An article on the site suggests that a possible reason Dove awarded the contract to Alford was to make up for debt Alford allegedly guaranteed for a company he allegedly once owned with Dove.
That same article also questioned the propriety of an insurance contract between the insurance firm and the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, suggesting that the contract was awarded because Larpenter’s wife, Priscilla, worked for Alford.
After Alford made his complaint to Larpenter’s detectives and was interviewed , in furtherance of the investigation a warrant was obtained from District Judge George Larke that was served on Facebook, in an attempt to learn who was responsible for postings on that site related to the ExposeDat page. That resulted in disclosure by Facebook of a related IP address. A subsequent court order directed at the IP provider, AT&T, verified the Anderson residence as the place to which it was assigned.
At no time were either of the Andersons charged with a crime. But after the seizures Wayne Anderson was placed on paid administrative leave at the Houma Police Department, causing him to be culled from the list of officers authorized to perform extra-duty details for additional cash.
As the controversy played out in the court of public opinion, disclosures were made by Larpenter on a local television show, Bayou Time with Martin Folse, of information related to Jennifer Anderson’s criminal record, which included a prior federal arrest for fraud that resulted in a guilty plea to felony charges.
“The purposeful and malicious publication of this information resulted in the loss of Jennifer Anderson’s job resulting in damages,” the lawsuit states. “The publication also resulted in harm to her reputation within the community, a reputation that she had diligently worked for years to rebuild and secure, all of which has caused damages.”
The suit alleges that a deputy obtained the information from an allegedly unauthorized search of the federal NCIC criminal database on Aug. 4, two days after the warrant was executed.
In 2003 Jennifer Anderson, under the name Jennifer Richeson, opened a bank account in the name of a Grovetown, Ga., woman. Checks from that account, according to a report obtained from Georgia prosecutors, were deposited into an account in Richeson’s name. She was arrested and charged with “theft by taking.” Two felony counts were dismissed and a misdemeanor charge remained. She pleaded guilty, paid a $1,000 fine and was placed on two years’ probation. In addition to the woman identified in the complaint, First Bank of Georgia was also named as a victim. The Times chose not to identify her after an attempt to reach her was unsuccessful.
Simultaneously, Anderson was also investigated by the U.S. Secret Service in connection with a case originating in Savannah that included multiple defendants. The Secret Service’s Atlanta bureau confirmed some details of the case but said the defendant’s arrest was effected in Nebraska.
The Federal court record does show that on July 29, 2005 Richeson pleaded guilty to fourteen counts of “fraud and related activity in connection with access devices.” She was sentenced to two years in federal prison, ordered to pay $13,990.97 in restitution and a $1,200 fine.
The allegation of conspiracy is furthered in the court papers by a statement that “defendants Gordon Dove, Jerry Larpenter and Anthony Alford all met and/or discussed a jointly accepted and agreed upon the illegal plan.”
Louisiana Ethics Board and Attorney General opinions have during the course of the ordeal negated suggestions that any of them had violated the law through their business dealings.
Alford’s appointment as agent of record for Terrebonne Parish regarding certain insurance contracts was recently approved by the Terrebonne Parish Council. Hints of the acrimonious nature of the ExposeDat controversy are clearly evident in the filing, however.
As the controversy played out in public, Larpenter had taken the brunt of public criticism through allegations that his office’s handling of the warrant was heavy handed and appeared to have personal motivations. Dove has largely escaped such scrutiny, but allegations in the suit shed new light on that topic.
“Defendant Dove allegedly announced to the entire Synergy Bank Board of Directors that he was going to shut the ExposeDat website down and that he was having subpoenas issued,” the court papers state.
Further accusation of Dove’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy is presented in the suit is contained in a statement that “once the plaintiff’s home address was known to defendants and the search warrant had been signed, defendants Larpenter and Dove further conspired by allowing Dove to make a last minute criminal defamation complaint approximately one hour and thirty minutes prior to the raid on Anderson’s home.”
Sheriff’s Office records do not show a formal complaint from Dove, however, only a statement taken by a detective from Dove.
The court papers include a copy of a Sheriff’s Office report filed after the warrant had been executed, which mentions a text message allegedly sent by Jennifer Anderson to one of the detective involved in the case.
“I like how you went through my panty drawer today,” the report quotes the message as reading. “Too bad you only found old s–t. Perhaps you should try harder.”
The message concludes with a hashtag #Catchdatifyoucan.
Wayne and Jennifer Anderson (right to left). Courtesy: Facebook