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Federal charges against 2 ex-St. Tammany deputies over work release program

David Hanson, Sr. and Clifford "Skip" Keen were charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and soliciting a bribe in bills of information Wednesday, an indication they intend to plead guilty to the charges.

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges Wednesday against two former St Tammany Parish Sheriff’s deputies closely associated with a private company that ran a work release program for former Sheriff Jack Strain.

PREVIOUSLY: Federal grand jury investigating former St. Tammany sheriff and now-shuttered work release

David Hanson, Sr. and Clifford “Skip” Keen were charged with soliciting a bribe and honest services wire fraud in a bill of information, an indication they intend to plead guilty to the charges.

The bill of information lays out a scheme in which Hanson and Keen, through their adult children, allegedly funneled payments to an unnamed public official for allowing them to operate the work release program in Slidell, while making more than $1 million in personal profits from 2013 to 2017.

WWL-TV and partner newspaper the New Orleans Advocate first began to expose problems with the two privately-run work release programs under Strain in 2013, including raising questions about the no-bid contracts awarded to hand-picked contractors to run them.

Work release programs allow state prisoners at the end of their sentences to stay at prison-like barracks at night, while working at jobs in the community during the day. The programs take nearly 70% of the inmates’ pay and charge them for items they purchase through the program’s commissary.

Public records show Strain spent nearly a half a million dollars remodeling the building that housed the Slidell work release program before turning the operation over to a private company owned, in part, by the adult children of Hanson and Keen, facts first revealed in our investigative reports.

Keen was tasked with overseeing the building repairs as facilities manager for STPSO and his name appears on many of the invoices. He was coordinating improvements to a building that his son's company would later move into.

The bill of information states the unnamed public official conspired with Hanson and Keen about how to give the work release program to them to run and profit from, using their adult children as owners of the company, instead of taking ownership themselves, so they would not have to resign from the STPSO.

In 2013, Strain inked a no-bid contract with the company they formed, St Tammany Workforce Solutions.

The court documents say Keen and Hanson, through their children, each owned 45% of the company, with local construction company owner, Allen Tingle holding on to 10%.

Over time, the bill reads, Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen, identified in La. Secretary of State records as person 1 and person 2, received $1,195,000 in profits from the program.

Again, the bill does not identify the public official involved in the scheme, but Strain was the official who privatized the two programs.

According to the court documents, official asked Hanson and Keen to pay his son $4,000 because, “Public Official

1 issued the right to operate the Slidell work release program to St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, LLC.”

In addition, the bill claims both Keen and Hanson funneled cash payouts greater than $1,000 to the official on a regular basis for the same reason.

Hanson also forced Allen Tingle to hire the official’s relative at a salary of $30,000 a year, which was understood to be a no-show job. Court documents indicate the official had knowledge of that arrangement.

When he issued the no-bid contract to St Tammany Workforce Solutions, LLC in 2013, Strain claimed the work release program had been losing money and he had no choice.

“We did everything we could but we understood that at some point in time, we had to make a decision, either shut it down or privatize it. I believe we made the best choice,” Strain said.

The larger federal investigation into the work release programs first came to light in March of this year when a grand jury subpoena was issued to STPSO for documents related to the Hansons, the Keens, Tingle and both Strain and his nephew, Ryan Palmer.

When Strain left office, David Hanson, Sr. and Skip Keen were both terminated by incoming Sheriff Randy Smith.

They, and a group of other deputies, filed a federal civil lawsuit for wrongful termination against Smith. Hanson withdrew from the lawsuit earlier this year and just two days ago, the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Wilkinson, Jr. issued an order for Keen to deliver a letter Keen said he received declaring him the target of a federal criminal investigation, another sign Keen was in prosecutors’ crosshairs.

While the federal charges only center on the St Tammany Workforce Solutions, Strain also contracted with a connected company to run the Covington work release facility, Northshore Workforce, LLC.

Just as he did with St Tammany Workforce Solutions, Strain had awarded a no-bid contract to Northshore Workforce, LLC. His former warden and campaign treasurer, Marlin Peachy, was one of the owners along with politically-connected construction company owner Jimmy Laurent.

The bill of information says in addition to his position at the STPSO, Hanson was employed part-time with Northshore Workforce bringing in a $40,000 annual salary.

Peachy has since sued Strain and the Sheriff’s Office for breach of contract after Strain shut the Covington program down, citing “reckless journalism” in a series of our investigative reports that uncovered unsafe conditions, a lack of supervision and even drug overdose deaths.

Many of the Covington inmates were transferred to St Tammany Workforce Solutions in Slidell following the closure.

While the private companies running the two programs had close ties to the sheriff’s office, Strain publicly kept them at arm’s length.

For example, Strain serves on the Board of Directors of Covington-based bank Citizens Bank and Trust Co. Financial disclosures filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics indicate the bank paid Strain between $5,000 and $25,000 a year in 2016.

Both work release programs used Citizens Bank and Trust Co. to handle banking and inmate accounts, as did Tingle, according to court records.

Stay with WWL-TV for the latest on this developing story.

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