Sexting incident between parish president, teen draws federal scrutiny and local demands for resignation

By Christopher Knoll | Oct 30, 2016

HARAHAN — Ever since the allegations of sexting a 17-year-old boy in 2015 surfaced in early October, Jefferson Parish president Mike Yenni has been a no-show at a council meeting, declined answering questions posed by a joint team of investigative reporters from the NOLA Defender and WWL-TV, and has instead released a one-minute video recorded message that the Defender derisively called a “commercial."

During the video, Yenni states that his actions, while improper, in no way impair his governing abilities. It is a defense that people like Daniel Hayes, the Jefferson Parish representative for the Libertarian Party of Louisiana, find incredulous.

“I think that that’s not true.” Hayes told the Louisiana Record

Following the allegations, Yenni has been barred from school campuses, denied his role on school boards and refused communion in area Catholic Churches. His powers of representation, Hayes contends, have been irreparably damaged and have been “undoubtedly hindered.”

With the public demanding answers and Yenni saying he will not resign, Metairie attorney Robert Evans III has decided to call for the 40-year-old politician’s ouster. Last Thursday, Evans filed a petition of recall with the Louisiana secretary of state. To pass, the recall needs 90,000 signatures by mid-April, 2017. Evans did return calls from the Louisiana Record. 

Hayes called Yenni’s actions “clearly immoral." Hayes described the recall effort initiated by Evans as “well organized” and backed by many of the “big politicos, as well as the outraged citizens” of Jefferson Parish.

The petition comes a day after a University of New Orleans telephone poll found eight out of 10 citizens contacted by the pollsters said Yenni should step down. The Times Picayune reports that the university’s results showed a slight partisan difference, with 87 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans calling for the Parish president’s ouster.

A recall, Hayes stated, is exactly what Jefferson Parish residents need in order to recover from the “black eye” the accusations have given the community. “If he cared about Jefferson Parish at all, he would resign. But he won’t.”

Louisiana law declares the age of consent to be 17. The 17-year-old openly gay teen in question told the Louisiana Record that he told Yenni, who was mayor of Kenner at the time, how old he was and Yenni reportedly responded that he knew “the laws." While Yenni admitted to knowing state law, he unknowingly may have violated federal statutes.

United States federal code prohibits using telecommunication devices for “the transmission of any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication which is obscene or child pornography, knowing that the recipient of the communication is under 18 years of age, regardless of whether the maker of such communication placed the call or initiated the communication.”

According to The Clarion Ledger, a Mississippi newspaper, the law has been challenged many times as a violation of free speech and being very vague in defining what is obscene. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the law and the trickiness of its use has since seen few cases appear before the court.

Yenni, who is married and has children, has exhibited somewhat similar behavior in the past. In 2010, the then 33-year-old Republican candidate for mayor, was being blackmailed by political adversaries who had acquired “racy” Blackberry messages Yenni sent to nine other adults (eight men and one woman). The smartphone and service provider charges, which, according to Hayes, amounted to $100 a month, were paid for by Louisiana taxpayers.

The sexting charge has drawn the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has been looking into the case since at least last April, which was when the youth involved with the sexting says he was last contacted by federal agents. Currently, the FBI says it is actively interviewing four people related to the sexting case.

Yenni first saw the youth two years ago during a Catholic school sporting event. A 19-year-old friend of the youth was contacted by Yenni and the friend agreed to give the parish president the 17-year-old’s phone number. The two talked and texted numerous times and even met once in a local shopping mall. The youth was even offered a job in Yenni’s office. It was just further evidence of what Hayes calls Yenni’s “predatory type of behavior."

While claiming to the Clarion Ledger that he was “initially flattered and intrigued” by the politician’s advances, he says that as the sexting became more obscene and Yenni began proposing threesomes, the youth became uncomfortable and blocked the mayor’s number.

David Gereighty, a member of the Jefferson Parish Democratic executive committee, told the Louisiana Record that after discussing the Republican parish president’s woes with fellow members, the committee decided to offer no “official position” on the matter.

Meanwhile, citizens of Jefferson Parish have not sat idle. To push the issue along, Hayes said a growing number of Jefferson citizens have demanded their representatives oppose the upcoming tax renewals that Yenni has pushed for, thus casting the entire issue into the arena of budgetary politics. 

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Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Robert Evans State of Louisiana U.S. Supreme Court University of New Orleans

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