Man reportedly accused of Winfrey extortion from Louisiana

Homeowners snapping up federal flood insurance after ’05 storms
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Curfews of six Lafourche Parish bridges changed
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Homeowners snapping up federal flood insurance after ’05 storms
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Curfews of six Lafourche Parish bridges changed
January 11, 2007


The man reportedly accused of trying to extort $1.5 million from Oprah Winfrey ran unsuccessfully for local government in Louisiana and is the brother of a convicted murderer.

Keifer Bonvillain, 36, a native of Houma was arrested Dec. 15 in Atlanta, said his father, James Bonvillain.

Bonvillain was scheduled to appear Monday before a federal magistrate but waived the preliminary hearing, said Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta. A grand jury may be asked instead to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

Samborn refused to confirm Winfrey as the target, and the criminal complaint only identified Bonvillain’s aim as “a public figure and the owner of a Chicago-based company.” The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, citing unnamed sources, have reported the target was Winfrey.

In 1999, Keifer Bonvillain finished third in a three-person race for a Terrebonne Parish Council district representing the communities of Gibson, Gray, Schriever and parts of Houma. During the campaign, he provided a Columbus Street address and listed his occupation as owner of a Baton Rouge bridal store.

Wayne J. Thibodeaux, who got 64 percent of the vote, said he doesn’t recall much about his opponent. “I didn’t know much about him, and I didn’t try to get to know him,” Thibodeaux said. Thibodeaux is now executive director of the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority, where Bonvillain’s uncle, Willie Bonvillain, is a board member.

Keifer Bonvillain attended South Terrebonne High School, and is listed as a senior in the school’s 1988 yearbook.

His older brother, John Fitzgerald Bonvillain Sr., was convicted last month of killing 19-year-old Ashley Scivicque and hiding her plastic-wrapped body in the trunk of his car. John Bonvillain also is scheduled for trial this month on a charge of killing his wife, Cheryle McCann Bonvillain, whose body was found in a box in their home.

Willie Bonvillain, a former Terrebonne Parish councilman, said he hasn’t kept in close contact with Keifer and learned of his arrest Monday.

“I was surprised,” he said. “You don’t know what these young people are going to do these days.”

Keifer Bonvillain told the Chicago Sun-Times the charges were a misunderstanding.

“There is nothing to it,” he said. “It’s nothing. It was a big mix-up.”

A call Saturday to Keifer Bonvillain’s attorney, Kent Carlson, was not returned. Nor was a call to winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions Inc.

According to the complaint, Bonvillain met a California-based employee of the Chicago company at a party more than two years ago, then recorded conversations with the employee about the owner and her business.

In mid-October he sent the owner an e-mail, telling her an employee said awful things about her, the complaint states. A month later, Bonvillain sent a letter saying he had tapes of the conversations, an FBI agent alleges in the complaint.

Over the next few weeks, Bonvillain told the associate he wanted to publish a book based on the tapes and claimed he had received offers of $500,000 to $3 million from tabloids and book publishers, the complaint said.

The associate, who by this time was cooperating with the FBI, agreed to a $1.5 million price, wired Bonvillain $3,000 and arranged to meet him, the complaint said.

Bonvillain was arrested in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel and released on $20,000 bond.