Harry Morel, a former district attorney from south Louisiana who frequently used his position to offer vulnerable women clemency in return for sexual favors, pleaded guilty Wednesday to obstructing a federal investigation of sexual abuse allegations. The 73-year-old faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
As the Advocate reports, investigators have linked the former St. Charles Parish District Attorney to 20 women during his 33-year tenure. Morel had offered to help the women with their cases or cases of relatives.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said, “Harry Morel could make things go away, but he wanted sexual acts in exchange. We suspect that this pattern of conduct has been ongoing for many decades. In fact, we will never know the full extent of it.”
— New Orleans LA (@NewOrleansRR) April 21, 2016
Morel’s guilty plea was facilitated by one of his alleged victims, Danielle Keim, 27. Keim died of an apparent drug overdose in 2013, but before her death she was a key witness against the accused. According to a court filing, Keim, who was referred to as “Individual A,” was arrested on a drunken while driving charge in March, 2010. Morel had allegedly gone to her home in St. Charles Parish, where he negotiated the possibility of making the charges “go away” if she would “do something for him in return.”
Keim had called 911 after the prosecutor left her home. According to St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, the woman, in a trembling voice, had accused Morel of showing up at her house where he talked about her case and sexually assaulted her. Eventually Keim agreed to wear a wire for the FBI and record her conversations with Morel. During a surveillance operation, the FBI captured on tape Morel bringing two bottles of wine to her apartment where he engaged in “inappropriate behavior.” Tammy Glover, Keim’s mother, said her daughter was working for the FBI for over 12 months.
Jeff Sallet, agent in charge of the operation, said Keim needed to be appreciated for the resolve and courage she demonstrated towards snagging the prosecutor.
“Harry Morel is nothing short of a sexual predator. His days of victimizing the defenseless among us are over. He has been brought to justice and will now pay for his crimes.”
U.S. attorney’s office calls Harry Morel corrupt, a sexual predator https://t.co/m0GhKWAQmb pic.twitter.com/3lZdloQgWg
— wdsu (@wdsu) April 20, 2016
According to a court affidavit submitted Wednesday, Morel solicited sexual favors from women between 2007 and 2009. However, the document did not provide any details of the crimes he allegedly committed. Prosecutors could not charge him with any of the crimes. Instead, he was charged with an obstruction of justice, a deft indictment that stemmed from his harassment of Keim, to destroy evidence that would have implicated him when he was being investigated.
In 2011, Keim’s boyfriend, Errol Falcon, Jr., had taken pictures of her and Morel at a district attorney’s satellite office and courthouse parking lot. Morel had repeatedly told Keim to get rid of the incriminating photographs, knowing that if it fell into the hands of federal authorities investigating him he was doomed.
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Morel refused to talk after his court appearance, but his attorney Ralph Capitelli described his client being referred to as a “sexual predator” as being overboard, dismissing it as a smear campaign to manipulate his sentencing.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said the former prosecutor was getting off easy, adding that the “slow wheel and often imperfect process of justice” was a major reason why they were not pursuing more severe sexual offenses. Morel is due for sentencing August 17. He is free on a $50,000 bond pending his sentencing. Harry Morel was district attorney from 1979 to 2012, choosing not to seek re-election.
[Image via Shutterstock/Andrey Burmakin]