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AG Landry won't say if he'll return donation from fraud suspect

On April 5, records show Houston attorney Zach Moseley gave Jeff Landry’s campaign for governor the maximum donation allowed by law.

BATON ROUGE, La. — On April 5, state insurance investigators turned over their file on the largest fraud case they’d ever handled to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office for possible criminal prosecution.

That same day, records show a leading suspect in that case, Houston attorney Zach Moseley, gave Landry’s campaign for governor the maximum donation allowed by law.

Now, five months later and less than a month before the election, Landry’s campaign has repeatedly declined to comment on whether it would return Moseley’s $5,000 contribution, sidestepping claims of cronyism leveled in TV ads, news stories and televised debates.

In a debate Friday in Lafayette, State Treasurer John Schroder, a fellow Republican challenging Landry for the Governor’s Mansion, accused Landry of “cronyism.”

“How do you take the money and then also turn around and possibly open an investigation against them?” Schroder said, referring to Moseley and his law firm, McClenny Moseley & Associates.

Landry responded by contending he’d received more than $12 million from 11,000 donors and “we have no way to screen who gives us a check or not.”

But the allegations against Moseley have been well-publicized for months, including a WWL-TV investigation in May showing how MMA improperly signed up thousands of Louisiana storm victims as clients, negotiated insurance settlements for many of them without their knowledge and kept them from collecting tens of millions of dollars for repairing their homes.

Schroder has been airing attack ads about the Landry-Moseley connection for weeks, and WWL asked the Landry campaign whether it would return Moseley’s donation more than a week ago. Spokeswoman Kate Kelly declined to answer that question then and didn’t respond when the station asked again Tuesday.

The Louisiana Department of Insurance opened an insurance fraud investigation against MMA in August 2022. On Feb. 13, 2023, MMA’s defense attorney admitted in federal court that the firm sent letters to insurance companies claiming to represent 856 storm victims who had never actually hired MMA.

The Insurance Department’s investigators met with the Attorney General’s Office and Louisiana State Police about the case against MMA on Feb. 15, as a part of the Louisiana Insurance Fraud Task Force, Insurance Department spokesman John Ford said.

Landry’s office reported spending $668,000 for its dedicated insurance fraud support unit in 2022, which investigates insurance fraud cases and can prosecute them if requested by local district attorneys or judges. The attorney general does not have original jurisdiction to prosecute crimes without a local district attorney requesting assistance.

AG’s Office spokesman Millard Mule said the Louisiana State Police took the lead on the MMA investigation and has not referred any arrests for prosecution to the attorney general.

On May 1, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon fined MMA, Moseley, and his former partners in the firm, James McClenny and William Huye, a combined $2 million. Donelon’s executive counsel, David Caldwell, told WWL on Aug. 29 that the case had been referred to the attorney general and the FBI.

Caldwell led the Attorney General’s Criminal Division when his father, Buddy Caldwell, was AG. Buddy Caldwell lost the Attorney General election to Landry in 2015. The younger Caldwell told WWL the Insurance Department had handed Landry’s office “a pretty, pretty straightforward case” against MMA for filing false public records.

“Anyone who files a false public record saying that they represent a client when in fact they do not makes for a pretty, pretty straightforward case,” Caldwell said. “And this is pretty egregious.”

After MMA was banned from operating in Louisiana, it tried to direct thousands of former clients to hire Lafayette-based law firm Laborde Earles. Laborde Earles’ founder Digger Earles is a leading supporter of Landry’s and held a fundraiser for Landry’s campaign on April 4, the day before Moseley’s donation was recorded by Landry’s campaign. Earles told WWL that he did not solicit the contribution and did not invite Moseley to his fundraiser, which he said Moseley did not attend.

Earles testified in federal court April 26 that he had discussed with Moseley taking over some of MMA’s cases. Earles said he agreed not to object to Moseley’s efforts to collect fees for legitimate work MMA did on the cases.

U.S. District Judge James Cain later ruled MMA would not be allowed to collect any fees from its former client’s cases.

Earles also testified that MMA sent out letters to former clients encouraging them to hire Laborde Earles on Laborde Earles letterhead and electronically signed with Earles’ legal name Derrick Earles, without his knowledge or approval.

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