Former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel Jr., who on Wednesday was accused of preying on more than 20 women, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in federal court.
The obstruction charge stems from allegations that Morel harassed a grand jury witness, Danelle Keim of St. Rose, and attempted to destroy evidence she had that could be used against him.
At a press conference following Morel’s plea, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said the parish’s former DA “has acknowledged that he will likely receive three years in prison as a result of his criminal conduct. Today, after many thought it would never happen, at the age of 73, even Harry Morel had to answer the call of justice.”
Polite called Morel “a man who perverted his position of power to take advantage of desperate women who needed help and he did this over and over again.”
Although Morel was “the embodiment of justice for more than 30 years” as DA, Polite said, in “the darkness of his heart, he was something else entirely.”
The case is based on Keim,who accused Morel of having an inappropriate relationship with her in return for lessening her community service from the DWI conviction. Soon after, she began assisting the FBI investigation and was a key witness in the case.
In February 2013, Keim, 27, was found dead from a drug overdose in Destrehan, but these recordings (audio and video), along with calls she made to 911, aided the investigation. The FBI considered her a key witness in the case.
Polite added that Morel also was accused of preying on more than 20 women who sought leniency from his office in exchange for sexual favors for more than two decades.
A 15-page case summary includes transcripts of FBI recordings that focus on Keim and Morel conversations.
According to FBI recordings on July 23, 2012, Morel visited Keim’s apartment with two bottles of wine and the two discussed the status of the letters he provided to help her out of community service related to her DWI conviction.
According to the recording:
Keim: “I got a deal for you though. Let’s see if we can make a deal.”
Morel: “What is it?”
Keim: What’s the furthest? We, we never really went, really, we never really went further than kissing and just kinda touching and feeling. What do you want from me?”
Morel: “I don’t know. I want to spend some time with you.”
Keim: “You say that but you never – and I know you’re busy – but you never.”
Morel: “Well, I think about making love to you but then, you know, it gets me nervous, too. And I don’t – but that’s not why I’m helping you. So I just sort of back off.”
In a Nov. 29, 2012 recording, Morel told Keim to destroy evidence that could implicate him in the FBI investigation into accusations against him that he was trading plea deals in return for sex.
Morel told her to destroy a camera memory card with photographs taken by Keim’s then boyfriend that show both their vehicles at the St. Charles Parish Courthouse and Satellite Office at night on July 4, 2011. He further told her that he could destroy the card and to tell investigators it did not exist.
In a Nov. 30, 2012 recording, Keim met with Morel at his office and she gave him a copy of the card, but told him it was the original. Morel responded that he’d throw it in the garbage or hit it with a hammer. He again told Keim to deny knowing anything about the photographs if FBi investigators asked about them.
At about the same time, Keim told Morel about her boyfriend calling her from jail using a smuggled cell phone and asking for the memory card. He threatened to give them to investigators.
According to the recorded conversation:
Morel: “Where’s the memory card?”
Keim: “The Feds?” and she says she has the card.
Morel: “Well, throw it – destroy it.”
Keim: “Well, I don’t know. Should I?”
Keim replies her boyfriend was dragging her into this.
Morel: “Well, you’re dragging me into it with that. You need to get rid of that.”
Later in the conversation, Keim asks: “Well, I mean how do I get rid of it?”
Morel: “What? The pictures?”
Keim: “This is pissing me off. Like, it’s really … it’s … he …”
Morel: Give it to me. I’ll get rid of it.”
The two discuss what other pictures are on the card.
Morel: “Get rid of it.”
Keim says there are photographs of her boyfriend’s children as babies.
Morel: “That’s his problem. [He] wants to play hardball, we gotta play hardball.”
According to Polite,”Harry Morel could make things go away, but he wanted sexual acts in exchange.”
He said Morel preyed on women who needed help enforcing child support obligations, had children in trouble with the law or were in trouble with the law themselves.
“We suspect this pattern of conduct has been going on for many decades,” Polite said.
He praised the women who came forward, as well as the efforts of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and FBI partners in the investigation including Jeffrey Sallet, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans field division. He said today’s plea prevents many of these women from “the vicious attacks that would have undoubtedly come in both the media and courtroom based on their criminal history or past acts.”
Polite said the case focused on Danelle Keim’s assistance in the FBI investigation.
“Morel’s conduct with one of these women, Danelle Keim, stands at the center of his acknowledged wrongdoing today,” he said. “Unfortunately, Ms. Keim died all too young but this resolution is for her and all of these women, known and unknown.”
Calling it a case that “calls out for justice,” Polite said it presented unique and challenging legal challenges with losing Keim, their critical witness, that caused the Attorney’s office to initially decline prosecuting the case.
“Today’s resolution relieves many of those legal concerns by having Harry Morel plead guilty to the strongest charge against him, the one that encapsulates his misconduct the most – that is that he obstructed justice,” he said. “In fact, he perverted justice by making it conditional in the exchange of sexual favors.”
The former DA, who served more than three decades in the office, stepped down in 2012.
Visit the St. Charles Herald-Guide for updates on the Morel case.