Feds: Former D.A. harassed witness, tried to have photo evidence destroyed

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite announced Tuesday that former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry J. Morel Jr. has been charged with one count of obstruction of justice following a three-year investigation into allegations that he traded lesser charges for sexual favors.

Morel deferred comment to his attorney Ralph Capitelli with the New Orleans firm Capitelli & Wicker.

Morel is scheduled to appear in federal court at 2 p.m. Monday. On April 20, he will go before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, where Morel is expected to plead guilty as part of a plea agreement.

The charge resulted from his last months in office as district attorney and his initial work as assistant district attorney in 2012.

In a March 31 unsealed bill of information filed in the U.S. District Court of New Orleans, Morel is accused of harassing an individual who had potentially damaging evidence that could be used against the former district attorney.

The alleged harassment took place between January and November of 2012, and Morel even dissuaded the individual from testifying before a federal grand jury that was looking into allegations against him, according to court records.

The bill of information further states Morel is accused of instructing this person “to get rid of” and “destroy” photographic evidence that allegedly shows him and the individual met to discuss criminal charges.

Morel faces up to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release.

Joel Chaisson II, who took over as district attorney in 2012, thanked federal authorities for “taking the necessary steps to soon bring this sad chapter in the history of the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office to a long-awaited conclusion.”

Chaisson added the charges against Morel “do not diminish or call into question in any way the outstanding and professional work being done by the many hard-working individuals who represent my office so well.”

In February 2013, a 911 phone call made by Danelle Keim in April 2010 surfaced in which she reportedly stated that Morel had accosted her during a visit to her St. Rose residence. Morel did admit visiting her, but maintained it was to help take care of her pending criminal case. Kiem later died of a drug overdose.

A year later, Morel announced his retirement as DA. Morel said he made the move to avoid a conflict of interest with his daughter, Luling lawyer Michelle Morel, who announced she was seeking a seat on the 29th Judicial District Court in Hahnville.

By May 2012, Morel took an assistant job under Chaisson. Six months later, he left office at the same time an FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation was underway.

In January 2013, Morel left the DA office after Chaisson said he asked for his resignation. The FBI continued investigating. A year later, although the U.S. Attorney’s Office initially declined to bring charges in a federal probe into Morel’s possible misconduct, the case was resumed by the office. Capitelli maintained there was insufficient evidence for a case.

By July of the same year, the FBI seized more records. Capitelli called it a fishing expedition.

 

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