NEW ORLEANS — In his first email to Nanette Krentel’s sister, federal agent and former St Tammany Sheriff’s detective Jerry Rogers asked to remain anonymous. He used the email address email@example.com and described the connections some of the investigators on the case had to each other and advised the sister on what questions she should ask as Krentel’s family searched for answers in her homicide.
Rogers would later be arrested, taken from his home in handcuffs by three STPSO detectives, and booked into the St Tammany Parish jail on a criminal defamation charge.
When prosecutors declined to prosecute Rogers’ case, citing the unconstitutionality of the law used to arrest him, the emails and evidence became part of the public court record.
Kim Watson received her first email from firstname.lastname@example.org on December 29, 2017.
“I remember getting that first e-mail and I didn't think a lot about it because we were getting so many from people. I want to remain anonymous, but here's what I know,” Watson recalled.
Watson’s sister, Nanette Krentel, was found shot, her body burned in the Lacombe home she shared with her fire chief husband six months prior. Rogers told Watson questions to ask about what was or was not being done by detectives, to help the family navigate the investigation and to help find Krentel's killer.
“He put a little disclaimer at the bottom, like, none of this is 100 percent verified. So, it's just dots that whoever was sending it thought were connecting,” Watson said.
The sender questioned why Steve Krentel, Nanette’s husband, and his brother Bryan were given lie detector tests so soon in the investigation.
“Why in the world would someone be given a polygraph prior to all evidence being obtained,” Rogers wrote.
Rogers sent Watson ten emails over two years using email@example.com.
In early December, just six months after Nanette was found dead, Rogers wrote, "Need to ask sheriff who the new investigator is that has taken over the case!!!"
He was referring to former US Marshal Genny May, who Sheriff Smith hired as a consultant on the Krentel investigation.
Watson said she asked the lead detective fore STPSO if there was a new investigator and why. When Buckner asked how she knew that, Watson said she forwarded him emails she had received from firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Just is this lady really on this case? And then it turned into this whole, someone going to jail over email,” she said.
In that same email where Rogers told Watson about the outside investigator, he also questioned Buckner’s qualifications.
“Buckner is clueless!" he wrote, calling Smith the "dumbo sheriff" for bringing May on as a consultant on the case.
Days later, court records show Buckner secured search warrants for the email@example.com account and Verizon Wireless to secretly get call logs and location information for associated phones.
A search warrant indicates that all signs pointed to Rogers as the anonymous sender in January of 2019. But the sheriff's office didn't confront Rogers about it at that time. Rogers continued to email Watson until June of 2019 when he told her he heard May was leaving the investigation “very soon.”
When the Watsons asked Buckner about it, STPSO started trying to find who in the STPSO was giving information to Rogers?
Detective Keith Canizaro handled that part of the investigation, calling in Rogers’ former partner, Stefan Montgomery, in for an interrogation. Rogers trained Montgomery on how to investigate financial crimes before Rogers left to go work for the HUD-OIG.
“I was floored. Absolutely without a doubt in disbelief that Jerry Rogers would do this,” Montgomery told the detectives in the videotaped interview.
Montgomery was brought on to the Krentel case in December of 2018, a year after Rogers sent his first anonymous email to Krentel, yet the investigators would ultimately say Montgomery was sharing case-sensitive information with someone outside the agency.
“The reason we're investigating this, and I told you on the phone, that obstruction of justice has very key points in it and that's what this investigation falls under,” Canizaro tells Montgomery.
The sheriff has said they were investigating possible obstruction of justice because someone was talking to the Watsons about the Krentel case, criticizing investigators and Sheriff Smith.
“The family reached out to us and said who and the hell is this and why does he keep sending us emails,” Canizaro tells Montgomery. “I get it. I don't want to be here. But I get it,” Montgomery replied.
Again, the Watsons tell a different story and in one of the emails, Kim actually thanked Rogers.
“I take this personally. I've been in law enforcement for a long time,” Montgomery tells the investigators as his interrogation comes to a close.
Detectives arrested Rogers in September 2019 on a criminal defamation charge, based on a law that multiple courts declared unconstitutional decades ago.
Rogers is now suing Smith, Canizaro and his supervisor, Chief Danny Culpeper for allegedly violating his civil rights.
Smith called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said he looked forward to getting his day in court when all the facts can come to light.
Smith fired Montgomery saying the investigators found he had been sharing case-sensitive information with someone outside the agency.
“I was assigned to the Krentel case on or around December 20, 2018. I had no prior involvement or inside knowledge before that. The defamatory emails were sent prior to me being involved and don’t contain anything I have knowledge of. The one email sent by Rogers in June of 2019 (during the time I was assigned) contained nothing secretive or confidential,” Montgomery said.
Another long-time detective was forced to retire because he had talked directly to Krentel's family about the investigation.
Two more lives turned upside down by an unusual investigation that in the end, still has left its biggest question unanswered: who killed Nanette Krentel?