METAIRIE, La. -- Former Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Col. John Fortunato on Thursday called interim JPSO Sheriff Joe Lopinto a “a deceitful politician who will lie to the public for his own personal gain.”
The pointed statement came after a report in The New Orleans Advocate showed contradicting statements Lopinto made about whether he was aware of an effort by deputies to gather video of Fortunato meeting with fellow retired deputies ahead of his campaign announcement.
Fortunato retired from the JPSO to run against Lopinto, who replaced former Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand when he unexpectedly retired last summer. The race has heated up in recent weeks as the two longtime lawmen look to fill the powerful position.
On Wednesday, Lopinto tried to downplay the development.
"Should it have happened? No," he told reporters. "But is it something that's campaign-related? No."
Lopinto previously told The Advocate the deputies’ efforts to get video of Fortunato meeting with Walter "Tom" Gorman and John Thevenot on Oct. 18 were a misguided attempt to aid his campaign and that he was not aware of the existence of any surveillance video. But an internal JPSO investigation The Advocate obtained through a public-records request says Lopinto asked one of his deputies to obtain footage of the meeting at a P.J.’s coffee house in Elmwood.
“If I were the sheriff, I would have fired someone like Joe Lopinto on the spot for lying to the public,” Fortunato said in a prepared statement. “Sheriff is, by its nature, meant to be a position directed by truthfulness, fairness and accuracy. The mission of the JPSO is for ‘everyone to be committed to integrity.’
“Where is the integrity in lying to the public, lying to the media and lying to endorsement groups just to win their support?” Fortunato continued. “Joe Lopinto is nothing more than another deceptive politician who hasn’t earned his badge or the people’s trust.”
Lopinto told The Advocate the issue was a “non-story” and he did not know the deputies successfully copied the footage from the cafe until the JPSO received a public-records request for the internal affairs report.
"I had a friend that knew about the meeting and asked and said, 'Would you like me to get a copy?'" Lopinto recounted to reporters Wednesday. "Sure, go get a copy. It's not a big deal. That's legal in any case in the world."
He added that he still has not seen the video, something Fortunato said is beside the point.
“The hypocrisy of Joe Lopinto is epic. He threw his own deputies under the bus, lied to the public and media, issued a memo to try to cover his tracks, and now calls it all a ‘non-issue’ because he was caught in the act of being deceptive, irresponsible, and reckless,” Fortunato said. “He’s not fit to lead 1,500 men and women in a fight for justice.”