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.
Terrebonne’s parish president, a Houma insurance broker and the parish government itself have been sued by a city police officer and his wife, who allege conspiracy between those individuals and entities with Sheriff Jerry Larpenter to violate their civil rights through a failed criminal defamation case that constituted malicious prosecution.
Papers filed last week in New Orleans federal court were added to a court action already brought against Larpenter, in connection with his agency’s investigation of alleged defamation of insurance broker Tony Alford on the controversial “ExposeDat” website and its related Facebook page. A warrant issued in August by State District Judge Randy Bethancourt authorized seizure of computers belonging to the officer, Wayne Anderson, and his wife, Jennifer Goulas Anderson. A state appeals court invalidated the warrant and declared the attempted application of Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute unconstitutional.
Prior to that, the Andersons had sought a federal injunction invalidating the warrant, but Judge Lance Africk deferred to the state courts. The new papers, filed Friday, expand on arguments already made against Larpenter.
“The website, which was a lawful exercise of free speech, was ultimately individually and jointly targeted by Larpenter, Dove and Alford,” the new 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 suit names Parish President Gordon Dove, Anthony Alford, who is president of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office and the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government, as well as Larpenter.
It 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.
Neither Larpenter, Dove nor Alford had seen the amended suit as of Monday, and so could not comment on it.
The amended suit is the latest chapter in a controversy rooted in the July, 2016 appearance of the ExposeDat site, written under the nom de plume of John Turner. The site discussed 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 suggested 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.
Alford, enraged that he was accused of being involved in corrupt activities, made a complaint to Larpenter who assigned a detective to investigate.
The complaint was brought under a Louisiana statute that makes defamation of another a crime under certain circumstances.
In furtherance of the investigation detectives obtained a warrant from District Judge George Larke that was served on Facebook, in an attempt to learn who was behind the ExposeDat site. That resulted in disclosure by Facebook of a related IP address. A subsequent court order directed at the IP provider verified the Anderson residence as the place related to the website.
A warrant was then obtained from Bethancourt for a seizure of devices, which was later challenged by the Andersons. According to their initial argument, the warrant – and resulting seizure – was unconstitutional. Tony Alford was a public official because he is chairman of the levee board and so, because of strong legal precedent, the defamation law could not be used.
Bethancourt refused to invalidate the warrant and an appeal ensued.
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.
One by-product of the suit is the most transparent indication to date of the identity of the fictional John Turner. The suit mentions on more than one occasion the constitutionally protected nature of the speech of “the plaintiffs.”
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.”
Allegations on the ExposeDat site of corrupt activity by Larpenter, Dove and Alford are given a new airing, although Louisiana Ethics Board and Attorney General opinions have during the course of the ordeal negated suggestions that any of them had violated the law.
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. •