Recently Louisiana Commercial Realty teamed with Orleans Parish Assistant District attorney Michael Danon to get one more criminal off the streets of New Orleans. The crime occurred in 2014, and it took 3 years to get the criminal arrested and to court which culminated this month in a trial before Judge Camille Buras in Orleans Parish Criminal Court where criminal Christopher Karl Stephan pleaded guilty to felony theft and fraud, waiving his right to a trial and agreeing to be classified as a multiple offender. Under article 893, the criminal was sentenced to 2 years’ suspended time and 2 years’ probation but must register with the Department of Corrections. The defendant’s attorney, Thomas Myers, also delivered a money order for compensation to the victim.
Why Spend 3 Years And 3 Times The Fraud To Get The Criminal Arrested
Robert Hand, president of Louisiana Commercial Realty, was prepared to testify as an expert witness, but since the criminal pleaded guilty, the judge proceeded directly to sentencing. Hand explained,
“Today we moved one small step closer to reducing crime in New Orleans. The assistant district attorney asked me: ‘why would anyone spend 3 years and 100 hours and 3 times the amount of the fraud to get the case before a judge?’ The answer is because it’s the right thing to do. My company is all about high ethical standards in real estate and this crime was real estate fraud. There is no end to how far I will go to do what is right and make sure others do the right thing also. It’s about values and what you stand for. I believe crimes for $100,000 start with crimes of $1,000 and even small crimes have to be stopped and have to be stopped today. But it was a team effort. The assistant district attorney did his part in not letting it fall through the cracks and 2nd district commander Paul Noel did his part in pushing it forward and Judge Cantrell did his part in issuing the arrest warrant and Judge Camille Buras did her part in sentencing. All we needed was a quarterback to keep the team together.”
Hand was responsible for providing details of the real estate crime, and working the case through the criminal system. Here are the shocking details of a little crime that easily could have been forgotten but is a classic example of why crime in New Orleans has been high for decades.
June 2014-The Shocking Details
Hand reported the crime in June 2014, to the 2nd District police station for the uptown area where the crime occurred and also tried to file with police chief Gary Marshall in Pass Christian, Mississippi, where the criminal lived, but the police would not accept a police report, saying it was a civil matter.
Hand contacted the Mississippi Attorney General who said they did not have jurisdiction, but Hand was able to file in Harrison County Justice Court, which is similar to small claims court; however, the clerk of court was unable to serve the criminal a subpoena to command him to appear in court. The clerk said, “Apparently the defendant has moved and the sheriff serving the subpoena only has to make an attempt to serve. There is fee each time the sheriff even attempts to serve a subpoena.”
October 2014-Private Detective
Hand hired a private detective, who was able find the criminal by placing a real estate craigslist ad, and served the subpoena when the criminal responded to the ad. In October 2014, Judge Ladner issued an arrest warrant when the criminal did not show up for the court date as instructed in the subpoena.
About the same time, the New Orleans 2nd district police Detective Honore processed the report and asked Hand to come to the station to identify the perp. After showing Hand several old photos from what the officer thought were driver’s license photos, Hand was unable to pick out the criminal from the old photos, leading Officer Honore to say she could not process an arrest warrant unless the criminal could be picked out. Hand provided a photo from the criminal’s Facebook page and offered that photo for positive identification, but Officer Honore said the criminal had to be selected from the photographs provided by police.
November 2014-This Case Is A No-Brainer
Hand followed up with dozens of calls to the 2nd district captain and detectives, but was always transferred to a number with an answering machine. Hand was able to connect with another 2nd district policeman, Officer Rigamer, who said after seeing the evidence that the “case is a no-brainer”, but Hand was never able to get phone calls answered or move the case along to get an arrest warrant issued until a new 2nd district commander was appointed, Paul Noel, who asked Detective James and Sargent Keller to review the file. By then, Hand had prepared a spreadsheet timeline, describing the situation and police inactivity which he sent to the district commander. In November 2014, assistant district attorney Andre Gaudin agreed to pursue the case as felony theft and contractor fraud, and was able to get Judge Cantrell to sign an arrest warrant.
3 Years Later-All Because Of A Traffic Stop
Three years passed without a word. In 2017, the perp was picked up in a traffic stop and when the arrest warrant popped up in his file, he was taken into custody. Assistant District Attorney Brian Ebard contacted Hand in July 2017, to say if the case goes to trial that the jury will be sympathetic, and suggested he let the criminal plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay money. Hand staunchly refuted allowing a pleading to a lesser charge and demanded the assistant district attorney accept only a felony pleading.
September 2017-Finally In Court
In September 2017, Ebarb was out and assistant district attorney Michael Danon was in, and he reminded Hand of the same likely outcome of a jury letting the criminal go free. Hand asked to only allow a pleading to a felony not a misdemeanor.
Once the case got before criminal court Judge Camille Buras in October 2017, the perp saw the evidence against him and noticed Hand showed up in court to testify with documents. The 2nd district police officer did not show up to testify even though the assistant district attorney requested it. The criminal waived trial by jury and pleaded guilty to not only one felony, but two, and after sentencing was arrested again by sheriffs waiting in the courtroom for a different crime exceeding $100,000.