The stunning mahogany-skinned twenty-three year old girl with flowing black hair and aqua green eyes flew into New Orleans Moisant Airport with her boyfriend Jake. At five six and one hundred thirty pounds of body parts all in the right places and proportions, this beautiful young woman was a head changer. She had been born and raised in the Gullah country of North Carolina until she came to New Jersey and became seduced by the charms of the slick talking, fast moving, dope dealing Jake.
She and Jake sat in seats many rows apart on the flight down from New Jersey. When they landed, she retrieved a plain black carryon suitcase from the overhead bin and proceeded into the terminal. The baggage she carried into the terminal contained fifty thousand dollars worth of neatly packaged cocaine for Jake to distribute to his customers in The City that Care Forgot.
Let’s just call this handsome young woman Althea. In those days we would have referred to Althea as a “mule,” someone employed by a known dope dealer to actually carry the goods. Each hit of cocaine which she carried for Jake had been cut with powdered milk and was wrapped in a single glassine envelope. Ten envelopes were bundled and bound with a rubber band, ready for sale on the streets.
Since Moisant Airport is actually in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, the Narcotics Squad of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office had received information, as they like to call it, “intelligence,” from their counterparts in New Jersey that Jake would be bringing a large amount of cocaine to New Orleans. They patiently waited at the terminal until Althea turned the suitcase full of valuable dope over to Jake. My friends on the Narco Squad loved chasing, and chasing bad guys, but most of all they relished recovering large amounts of high quality dope.
The Narc boys’ boss was the new Sheriff in town, Al Cronvich. Al had returned from WWII, graduated from Tulane Law School, and joined a small law firm with the avowed intent of making some money, but more importantly to clean up the corruption that existed in Jefferson Parish for many years.
For decades, Jefferson Parish had been run by the benevolent old Sheriff Frank Clancy. Sheriff Clancy had influence in every branch of the Parish government. He saw to it that his friends and political supporters, and their families, got jobs in his office, or other Parish jobs or jobs at the many local gambling establishments that populated Jefferson Parish. Gambling had been legal and thriving in Jefferson Parish under Sheriff Clancy’s rule to the extent that The Times Picayune newspaper referred to the Parish as “The Free State of Jefferson” or “Clancy’s Kingdom.”
When Senator Estes Kefauver came to Jefferson Parish in the mid nineteen fifties to rid the Parish of corruption, Sheriff wisely saw that it was time to fade away into history. A young relative of Sheriff Clancy by the name of Jack Fitzgerald, with the good sheriff’s blessing, got himself elected sheriff. Jack, a likable, handsome young man, enjoyed all the respect and perks that being sheriff afforded him, but he did not have the ruthless temperament necessary for politicians to get re-elected. The word about the Parish was that all it took to make Jack a happy boy was a good bottle of whiskey and the company of a good looking, willing woman.
So, big Al Cronvich’s super ego compelled him to step up to the plate, run for and win the office of Sheriff. A reformer by nature, Al vowed to reform the office which had suffered from corruption and indolence. By many accounts he did this. Straight-laced pretty much summed up Al’s character. A tall, well built fellow, Al looked very middle European. He kept in good shape by playing as much tennis as he could cram into his busy schedule. But Al, a serious person, fell short on a sense of humor and lacked empathy for those he saw as less holy than himself, which was about all the rest of humanity.
When his Narcotics Squad confiscated the big cargo of cocaine, Big Al could not pass up the opportunity to pose for photographs with the dope. The Times Picayune photographer did a fine job of catching the moment. There sat big Al in a chair next to the forbidden goods, but in the bottom of his right shoe, the whole world could readily see the big hole in the leather.
It fell to me to prosecute this case. There had been much public laughter about the hole in Big Al’s shoe. When I met with the Sheriff to discuss the case, I thought I would lighten the conversation by reminding the Sheriff the world had seen a famous picture of Adlai Stevenson when he ran for President of the United States, on stage with a hole in his shoe. The always serious and defensive Sheriff abruptly reminded me, “Yeah, but he lost his election and I won mine.”
The relationship between Al and me was strained from the beginning because he thought I worked for an incompetent District Attorney. There may have been some merit in that feeling. But,the relationship became further strained when I convicted his top aide of stealing a car the Sheriff’s Office had confiscated in a drug raid to give to his daughter. This offended Big Al so badly that his office refused to issue me a permit to carry a firearm even after I received threats from some of the lowlife in the Parish. I carried anyway without official permit from Al’s office. I figured that getting caught without a permit was a far lighter sentence than a possible alternative.
Althea and Jake were brought to the Jefferson Parish jail and both booked with possession of fifty thousand dollars worth of cocaine. A bond hearing took place the next day and bail was set at fifty thousand dollars apiece.
Rock Hebert, the local bail bondsman got a call from someone in New Jersey, who put up the ten thousand dollars for the bond fee to have Hebert bailout the drug dealing Jake and return him to New Jersey. Since my boss, the old District Attorney, had never forfeited a bond in his whole career, Rock felt very secure about bonding Jake out of prison.
Initially, I met Rock at the first Christmas party I attended at our office. He seemed to have hosted the party and was willing to give presents to all who attended including the Assistant District Attorneys. I don’t consider myself to be a prude, but when the crafty bail bondsman offered me a one hundred dollar gift certificate to a local clothing store, I had the good sense to realize I did not want to be obligated to the fast talking, slick Rock Hebert, so I politely declined the gift.
Two days after Jake returned to New Jersey, Jimmy Miller, the head of our Narcotics Squad, came to my office and told me that Jake would not be returning to Jefferson Parish to be be prosecuted “Why?” I asked. “Because,” Jimmy explained, “the narcs up there found his body in a swamp with eight nine millimeter bullets in it.” I concluded that in Jake’s world, if you failed in your job the consequences were death.
Now the question became, “What to do with Althea?” Ralph Barnett, a local criminal defense attorney who received many referrals from Rock Hebert, agreed to represent Althea. Ralph and I had tried many cases together and agreed on many plea bargains over the years. Ralph came to my office to discuss Althea’s situation. We both agreed that to bond her out and send her back to New Jersey would constitute a death sentence for her. I had already run her rap sheet through the NCIC database and found out she had no previous criminal activity.
Thank goodness her case had not been assigned to Judge Wally LeBrun, who believed that all persons who were found guilty or pled guilty to criminal activity should receive the maximum sentence possible. Althea’s case fell to Chief Judge John Boutall, a reasonable man with many years experience on the criminal bench.
Born and raised in the small commercial fishing community known as Bucktown, Judge Boutall possessed the good common sense of his fisherman ancestors. Located on the 17th Street canal, the boundary between Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, Bucktown served as protected docking for dozens of Lafitte skiffs that roared out into Lake Ponchatrain every morning to provide fresh shrimp, crabs and fish for the many seafood restaurants located in the area.
I admire commercial fishermen and have shared many pleasant seafood meals and vast quantities of beer with them at a little restaurant and bar called “The Rest A While.” Johnny, the owner of the bar and restaurant, and his fishermen customers, required that their long neck bottled beer be ice cold. To that end, Johnny did not entrust his beer to some modern dry cooler. Johnny’s solution was to immerse the long necks in an insulated tub filled with crushed ice just like that the fishermen used to preserve their catches. The results was ice cold beer all day and night long. There is nothing like the first swallow of ice cold beer when you have been fishing in the hot sun all day long. I think The Good Lord must have also thought well of fishermen, because he hung out with them every chance he got.
We approached the Honorable Boutall to discuss a plea bargain. We filled him in on the entire circumstances, including my findings that Althea had no criminal record. We told Boutall of Jake’s murder when he returned to New Jersey and we all agreed that Althea did not deserve that fate. Prior to meeting with Judge Boutall, Ralph and I had agreed to suggest to the Judge a sentence of three years at the women’s prison in Saint Gabriel located on the Mississippi River just south of Baton Rouge. Conditioned upon her good behavior, Althea would be eligible for parole in one year. Ralph and I concluded this would at least give her time to make adjustments in her life if she cared to do so.
Judge Boutall agreed with our approach and sentenced Althea to three years at Saint Gabriel.
Over the years I have frequently wondered about how Althea has fared in this life.