NEW ORLEANS — Dominique Berry, a prostitute who admitted to drugging and robbing men across the country, was sentenced Thursday in New Orleans to 45 months in prison, although she’s likely to be released soon.
One of her victims, 40-year-old Shawn Arthur, died in his Metairie apartment in 2017 after Berry drugged him and helped her pimp, Randy Schenck of New Orleans, make off with Arthur’s truck, credit cards and other valuables.
But Berry also said she was a victim of human trafficking by Schenck and committed her crimes under Schenck’s control, saying he would viciously beat her if she didn’t go along with his plan.
Acknowledging it’s hard to distinguish victims from the perpetrators of human trafficking, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon gave Berry the high-end of the sentencing guidelines for conspiracy to commit fraud and aggravated identity theft, saying an emotional victim-impact statement from Arthur’s father, Bob Arthur, was “helpful” in his decision.
But that’s still less than the five years Berry’s already spent in prison and depending on an assessment from the federal Bureau of Prisons. Berry’s public defender, Celia Rhodes, said Berry is signed up for a residential program for victims of human trafficking and has accepted responsibility for her actions.
“I’ve known Dominique for four years and she’s a different person now,” Rhodes said. “She is the victim of horrific control tactics, but Dominique herself is not making any excuses.”
Federal prosecutor Jordan Ginsberg spoke in favor of a reduced sentence in light of Berry’s help in building the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s sweeping human trafficking case against Schenck, who was sentenced last month to a maximum 25-year prison sentence.
But the real story is the continued indecision from the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office about whether to press murder charges against Schenck or Berry for Shawn Arthur’s death. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office closed its initial homicide investigation after just three months in 2017 after deciding Arthur’s death was accidental and involved “no foul play.”
JPSO only reopened their homicide investigation after Bob Arthur, a retired insurance claims investigator and mediator, conducted his own investigation, found dozens of other victims and tracked Berry to a Georgia jail.
Berry’s sentencing hearing was emotionally charged as she apologized to Bob Arthur and the rest of the Arthur family. Berry has admitted in court documents to slipping pills in Arthur’s beer, waiting until he was incapacitated and then helping Schenck steal Arthur’s truck, credit cards and other valuables.
"I can never apologize enough for what I've done," Berry said, turning away from Judge Fallon to face Bob Arthur, who had flown down from the Kansas City area to sit in the gallery. “I’ll have to live the rest of my life with what I’ve done and the people I’ve hurt.
Bob Arthur wants Jefferson Parish to charge Schenck with murder, citing Section 14.30.1 of the Louisiana Criminal Code, which says if someone dies during the commission of certain felonies, including robbery, or as the result of the distribution of a controlled substance, then it’s murder, regardless of whether the perpetrator intended to kill or cause serious bodily harm.
After striking out with Jefferson Parish in 2017, Bob Arthur went to Ginsberg with his investigative file after learning Ginsberg had prosecuted several human trafficking cases. Ginsberg ended up charging Schenck and Berry in a scheme involving around 50 victims in at least six states.
But even after Schenck and Berry pled guilty in federal court and admitted their actions the night of Shawn Arthur’s death, Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office has yet to file any state charges.
Bob Arthur said he wanted to accept Berry’s apology but challenged her to help Jefferson Parish charge Schenck with murder.
“I’m from Missouri, the Show Me State. She has apologized. If she really is sincere about that, then contact the district attorney of Jefferson Parish and tell them that she's willing to testify against Randy Schenck for murder,” Bob Arthur said. “So, do the right thing. Let's have justice.”
Bob Arthur said Assistant Jefferson Parish DA David Wolff told him at a meeting last month he was waiting for the federal case to end and was preparing to close the state case without filing murder charges.
But after a WWL-TV investigation earlier this month questioned why no state charges had been filed, Wolff emailed Bob Arthur this week and said, "I assure you, all options will be discussed at the charging conference," a meeting at which Wolff will present the case to other prosecutors in Connick’s office to decide on whether to file charges or not.
Bob Arthur said he wonders why the DA hasn’t brought the case to a grand jury to decide whether to file those charges.
Wolff “told me that he was sitting in on setting up a new grand jury,” Bob Arthur said. “And I said, ‘Turn it over to a grand jury. Let them see the facts and make a decision if further charges need to be made.’”
The DA’s office has declined to comment on a pending case.
“Being an investigator all my life and believing in our country, believing in justice, I just hope that they do the right thing,” Bob Arthur said.