HOUMA – Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has vowed to continue investigating the “Exposedat” anti-corruption blog despite the fact that it includes information about himself and his wife's employer, local politician and insurance broker Tony Alford.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office now is handling prosecution of the case after Terrebonne Parish district attorney Joseph Waitz Jr. turned the case over to it. The attorney general’s office was expected to represent the sheriff’s office in a hearing regarding a motion to quash the search warrant issued for Anderson’s home, which resulted in the seizure of Anderson’s computers and cell phones.
At the Aug. 5 hearing, State District Judge Randy Bethancourt ruled that the investigation can continue. Bethancourt is also the judge that issued the warrant to search Anderson’s home. Anderson has appealed the Aug. 5 ruling.
Larpenter said he will work to uncover the source of the blog that has published information and pictures revealing connections between himself, Alford and other parish officials.Sheriff’s deputies recently carried out a search warrant at the home of Houma police officer Wayne Anderson. The deputies seized computers and cellphones from Anderson’s home based upon information provided to the sheriff's office that there was a link between the officer’s home and the Exposedat blog. Anderson has denied that he has any connection with the blog.
“Assuming that this information was lawfully acquired, this person has a right to criticize any public official,” Keith Werhan, Ashton Phelps Chair in Constitutional Law at Tulane Law School, told the Louisiana Record.
Werhan said the only exceptions would be if the information published in the blog is false or if it was published with malice.
The investigation was sparked when Alford filed a complaint about the blog. Alford’s insurance business signed a professional services contract with the parish. No bids were taken for the contract awarded to Anthony J. Alford Insurance. Alford also serves as the acting president of the Terrebonne Parish levee and conservation district board of commissioners. In that capacity, Alford submits yearly personal financial disclosures to the Louisiana board of ethics.
Exposedat said Alford owns a business with Terrebonne Parish president Gordon Dove and recently published a photo of Alford, Larpenter and his wife, Priscilla, who is an employee of Alford’s insurance agency. Another insurance broker with a contract with the sheriff’s office, Christian D. Lapeyre, is also a partner with Alford in a separate agency. Some of the public work performed by Lapeyre and Alford is done under the name Alford, Staples, Lapeyre & Robichaux. Exposedat also has revealed ties between Dove, the sheriff and Waitz, Jr..
“The complaint is based on LRS 14:47 Defamation,” Larpenter said in a statement.
The sheriff said the investigation involves a criminal issue, not a freedom of speech matter. Larpenter alleged that the investigation results directly from the complaint filed by Alford and has nothing to do with the sheriff’s own involvement with the case.
The Louisiana Supreme Court has declared the criminal defamation law to be unconstitutional if it is used “to punish public expression and publication concerning public officials, public figures, and private individuals who are engaged in public affairs.”
“It’s a very high standard to prove defamation,” Werhan said. “On its face, (the investigation) seems deeply troubling under the First Amendment."