Dennis Woltering with reporting by Mike Perlstein /4 Investigates
JEFFERSON PARISH, La. Working from a small strip mall office in Marrero, constable Tony Thomassie enforces the judgments of the Second Justice Court in Jefferson Parish.That often means serving evictions notices and paperwork involving small claims.
'I have a very good reputation,' Thomassie said.'I do good at what I do.'
But two of his ex-deputy constables say Thomassie also sells badges.
'It's a money thing,' said one former deputy who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
'By issuing more than 30 badges obviously shows that this is not about an association of law enforcement people.It's about a campaign contribution draw.It's about putting money in his pocket, at our expense,' said Jason Gregory, a former deputy constable.
Actually Thomassie admits he has an association of up to 70 deputy constables.The two we talked to say they paid $150 for the badge and commission and $20 to $25 a month in dues.
'Of course you figured a lot of that money was going into his pocket or his 'campaign fund.'Sure,' said Jason Gregory.
Thomassie says his deputies have no official duties, are not paid and do contribute to his reelection campaign in a yearly fundraiser.
Plus, he says they voluntarily do civic things in the community.At Christmas, they escort shoppers to their cars to ensure safety at Oakwood Mall, as one example.
But the ex-deputies we talked to say he's essentially selling them the right to carry a badge.
'Obviously if you pull your wallet out, it is a badge, typically law enforcement would let you off on a warning if you were stopped.That happened to me a couple times,' Gregory said, explaining the situation came up for traffic tickets and speeding tickets.
'You know, a speeding ticket, it's 200-plus dollars. If you get pulled over two times a year, you know, you don't have the aggravation of court or having it put on your driving record,' said the other anonymous ex-deputy.
Both that ex-deputy and Jason Gregory question where the dues money goes.
'He can allocate whatever money, funds he wants to the actual association.And he can put whatever he wants in his pocket,' said the man we're calling 'Ronnie.'
Thomassie denies the charge.
'That's absolutely false,' he said. 'I would say they're lying through their teeth.'
Thomassie says the deputies' dues money is used by and for the association.He acknowledges some of the meetings take place at the Last Stand bar.Before we interviewed him, that bar's Facebook page said it is the 'headquarters of the Jefferson Parish 2nd District Constable's Association.'
Thomassie acknowledges some of his deputies don't live in Jefferson Parish as the law requires, but he says they are honorary deputies so the law doesn't apply.
'My opinion is that an honorary person is honorary and they're not a deputy constable, they're not performing my duties,' Thomassie said.
4 Investigates has found that one of his deputies is an ex-convict.Records reveal that Deputy Daniel Haro pled guilty to drugs and weapons charges.Thomassie says he wasn't aware of that.
'That disturbs me somewhat.Again, I have no idea of anyone that is,' Thomassie said.
When asked whether he performs background checks, Thomassie answered 'I probably should.'He said he was not certain if that was a violation of his oath of office.
Anthony Radosti of the Metropolitan Crime Commission finds the whole thing troubling.
'How do you issue 70 commissions, and he acknowledges, the constable, that he didn't do background checks on them.To me, that's outrageous.That's a betrayal of public trust,' Radosti said.
Radosti says law enforcement badges are not meant to be 'get out of jail free cards.'
He says he finds it especially disturbing that Thomassie has one deputy whom Radosti has certified has a felony criminal record.
'This gentleman with a commission has the ability to stop you, me, your wife, your child.It's a bad situation,' Radosti said.
Thomassie insists the deputies are only honorary. He said he's surprised anyone's even questioning him about this.
'I'm quite embarrassed and insulted by it.My deputy constables association, I'm proud of it,' Thomassie said.
'He's violating the spirit of the law by issuing commissions to nonqualified individuals,' Radosti countered.
'I have no knowledge of this constable association being illegal,' Thomassie said.
Three other constables contacted by Eyewitness News said they always do background checks on any deputy they commission and they said they only have deputies who actually work for them, serving papers.
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