A former Tangipahoa Parish Councilman learned his fate as a convicted felon Wednesday.
Michael Petitto, convicted of malfeasance in office in April, received five years probation, a $10,000 fine and a ban on running for public office.
The punishment is the price he's paying for arranging tax breaks in 2006 for the sale of 18-acres of land north of Amite, which his brother bought, then sold for a $200,000 profit. Petitto's mortgage was later paid off by his brother.
Judge Bruce Bennett said he considered jail time because of Petitto's resignation letter from the council, which he says shows denial and arrogance. Petitto hid from our cameras by leaving the courthouse out of a back door, instead of with his family, but his attorney addressed the judge's critical comments.
Attorney Gary Jordan said, "I think he is sorry for what happened. He may not have articulated that as well as he should have, but he is remorseful."
The judge also took issue with the case even getting to a criminal court room, saying, "It scares the hell out of me." Two courts originally threw out the criminal charges filed against Petitto, claiming ethics violations did not qualify for a prosecution on malfeasance charges. However, the state Supreme Court overruled those decisions allowing for this case to continue.
Bennett says prosecuting ethics charges allows district attorney's to abuse the system, but 21st Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux disagrees.
"I think district attorney's understand their obligations under the law, to bring cases that involve intentional violators of the law and applying the law as written," he said, "That's something we did here and that's what the Supreme Court said we could do."
And Perrilloux thinks Wednesday's result will send a strong message to people in power.
He said, "It's not a position I would want to be in and I don't think anyone else would. So the deterrent element is there and the use of the law is something that can be used in the future to deter public officials from misusing their office."
Petitto is appealing the case. He's set to return to court for a probation check-up in November, right after a special election to fill his council seat.