U.S. Attorney: ‘This case calls out for justice’
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 and attempted to destroy evidence against him.
At a press conference following Morel’s plea, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said Morel “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.”
Polite said the case was based on witness Danelle Keim of St. Rose, who assisted the FBI investigation by recording conversations with Morel. Keim died of a drug overdose in 2013, but these recordings along with calls she made to 911 aided the investigation.
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, according to Polite.
“Harry Morel could make things go away, but he wanted sexual acts in exchange,” Polite said of 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 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.