Sheriff: Recordings By Vitter Private Eye Will Go To FBI

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand

GRETNA, LA (AP) — A Louisiana sheriff said Tuesday that he will give the FBI video and other evidence gathered in an investigation of private investigators working for David Vitter's campaign for governor.

         Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said at a news conference that he began the investigation after he spotted someone using a video device to record a conversation he was having with a group that included a supporter of Vitter's Democratic opponent, Rep. John Bel Edwards, at a Metairie coffee shop in October.

         Vitter, a Republican U.S. senator, said Monday that the investigator was legitimately looking into whether an Edwards supporter was paying people to make false allegations about Vitter. He said he has contacted federal authorities about the allegations.

         Normand is a Republican, but has long been at odds with Vitter. He said Tuesday that other recovered video shows a Vitter-paid private investigator, Wes Bearden, aggressively interviewing an unidentified witness, coaxing her to say that payments were made by a person seeking to discredit Vitter.

         Bearden denied the accusation and said the witness approached the Vitter campaign. "We have never, ever coaxed her or any witness or individual," Bearden said in an email.

         Normand said he is consulting with the local district attorney to determine whether a private investigator violated the law by secretly taping the sheriff's private conversation at a coffee shop with Edwards supporter John Cummings and others, including a Vitter supporter. He said the recorded conversation largely centered on the presidential campaign. He showed excerpts of video from the Oct. 23 coffee shop incident and displayed two recording devices he said were used by the investigator, Robert Frenzel.

         Frenzel was booked with criminal mischief for trying to avoid deputies after he was spotted entering fenced, private property, according to an arrest report.

         Normand also alleged that Vitter campaign manager Kyle Ruckert recorded a conversation Ruckert was having with a businessman and that the businessman did not realize he was being recorded. Normand didn't identify the man or the substance of the conversation, and he did not accuse Ruckert of breaking the law.

         Asked about the sheriff's allegations in an email query, Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar responded with a statement from Vitter.

         "John Bel Edwards' political allies are clearly using their badges to play politics, which is horrible," the statement said.

         Vitter and Edwards face each other in a Nov. 21 runoff. In the Oct. 24 general election, Normand supported Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Dardenne, a Republican, finished fourth and broke party ranks to support Edwards.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill



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