According to his attorney, former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel has been cleared in an FBI investigation into abuse of power involving lowering criminal charges in return for sexual favors.
After serving as St. Charles Parish district attorney for 33 years, Morel resigned his position on May 31, 2012 and took an assistant job under his successor, Joel Chaisson II.
However, he retired six months later at the same time an FBI investigation began that examined whether Morel had used his position as district attorney to lower charges on criminals in exchange for sexual favors.
Morel has been under investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office since at least January when agents subpoenaed documents spanning from Jan. 1 2009 to May 31, 2012 to aid in their investigation.
Ralph Capatelli, Morel’s attorney, said a federal official, who is not part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and who he refused to name, informed him that no charges will be filed against Morel.
“They told me that the FBI investigation had been presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office had made a declination, or declined to prosecute, any charges against Mr. Morel. That’s what I was told. I didn’t make it up. The guy called me, I didn’t call him,” Capatelli said.
Capatelli said the case collapsed following the death of sole witness Danelle Keim.
Keim, who was a graduate of the St. Charles Parish drug court, was 27 years old when she was found dead on Feb. 8 shortly after the investigation into Morel began. Keim’s autopsy report found that she had a lethal amount of methlyone in her body, which caused her to overdose.
Keim’s boyfriend, Matthew Savoie, admitted to giving Keim “mollies,” or ecstasy in a powder or crystalline form, authorities said. He has been charged with second-degree murder and the distribution/manufacture or possession with intent to distribute a schedule 1 controlled dangerous substance.
According to a source with knowledge of the investigation, the FBI was looking into whether Morel propositioned Keim in order to lower the sentence on her ex-boyfriend, who had been arrested for theft. According to Capatelli, Keim’s claim was weak.
“The woman had no credibility and when I say no credibility I am being very charitable. This woman had a narcotics problem,” he said. “The circumstances involving her death was that she was voluntarily involved in narcotics. That’s the facts that are out there.
“That has nothing to do with Mr. Morel. His name is being thrown into something that he had no involvement with whatsoever.”
Despite rumors otherwise, Capatelli said Keim was the prosecution’s only witness.
“I was informed that the FBI approached certain women who denied any allegations and denied any sort of impropriety,” he said.
Capatelli said while the charges could be brought at a later date, he doubts Morel will be in any danger of future prosecution.
“As far as reinstituting a charge, I don’t know how you reinstitute a charge with someone who had no credibility to begin with and now is dead and can’t be cross examined, so you are not entitled to the rights you have to be able to confront the witness,” he said. “Believe me, I would have loved to cross-examine this witness. Mr. Morel had no sexual impropriety of any kind with her and absolutely denies it.”
The Times-Picayune reported last week that the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office has a recording of a 911 phone call in which Keim claimed Morel showed up at her home and made sexual advances towards her. Sheriff Greg Champagne said that his office has been cooperating with the FBI and has turned over all evidence they have. Champagne said that all further inquiries should be directed to the FBI.
FBI spokeswoman Mary Romig refused to comment on whether the FBI has cleared Morel, saying the FBI does not confirm or deny any investigations.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana has been in an upheaval over the past year following former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s retirement in December 2012. Letten retired due to a scandal involving assistant U.S. attorneys disparaging defendants on internet forums through the use of screen names that withheld their identities. President Barack Obama has nominated New Orleans attorney Kenneth Polite as the new U.S. Attorney, but he has yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return requests for comment on this story.