Suburban New Orleans judge indicted on drug charge

Associated Press WriterNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A state judge who is the subject of a wide-ranging federal investigation into possible judicial corruption in suburban New Orleans was indicted Wednesday on federal drug charges.

A grand jury accused District Judge Ronald Bodenheimer and another man in connection with an alleged scheme to plant drugs on an FBI informant.

New Orleans court observers have said the drug allegation appears to be "lagniappe" -- a Louisiana expression for "something extra" -- from the wider corruption investigation.

The probe first came to light June 5 when Bodenheimer was arrested and accused of planting illegal drugs in the car of a man who had been complaining to federal authorities about activities at the judge's marina in New Orleans.

Since then, it was learned that the FBI placed wiretaps and video cameras in the chambers of Bodenheimer and Alan Green, another state district judge in Jefferson Parish.

The two were the targets of court-ordered surveillance for as many as eight months, according to a letter sent to people whose conversations were intercepted. Green has not been accused of wrongdoing and has declined comment.

Federal authorities have refused to comment on the investigation. But in a statement issued by his office Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said: "The investigation which led to today's indictment is just one part of a larger on-going investigation being conducted in this district."

The surveillance also included taps on 10 telephones belonging to bail bond companies owned by Louis Marcotte III and his family, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and verified by an attorney in an interview with The Associated Press.

The two-page letter, copies of which were mailed to people whose conversations were intercepted by the surveillance, provided the first public indication that a judge other than Bodenheimer is a subject of the investigation.

FBI agents arrested Bodenheimer after searching his house in Metairie on June 5. He was suspdended from the bench and placed under house arrest, but continues to draw his $95,000-per-year salary.

Also indicted with Bodenheimer Wednesday was Curley Chewning of Chalmette. Both were charged with conspiring to possess and distribute oxycodone and three counts of using a cellular phone to carry out the crime. They each face more than 20 years in prison more than $1 million in fines if convicted.

Bodenheimer's attorney, Davidson Ehle III, was quoted by The Times-Picayune as saying that Bodenheimer had turned down a plea agreement for a maximum 30 months in prison in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation. Ehle said Bodenheimer is innocent and will fight the charges.

On Tuesday, Bodenheimer asked the state ethics board for permission to use campaign money in his defense. The board said it wants more information before allowing Bodenheimer to tap his $9,000-plus campaign fund.

The law says the money can be used for campaigns or for anything related to holding office.

The ethics board said if any indictment charges Bodenheimer with a crime pertaining to his actions in office, the law probably allows him to use the campaign funds.

State law also allows public officials to seek reimbursement of legal expenses from the Legislature if they are acquitted.

Marcotte's attorney, Arthur "Buddy" Lemann, told the Times-Picayune that despite the extensive wiretapping, the government has not discussed any alleged wrongdoing with Marcotte.