Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan's relationship with a convicted felon may raise questions about the district attorney's choice of dining companions, but it does not violate any canon of ethics, according to the chief disciplinarian for Louisiana's legal community.
"While it may not be politically savvy to hang around with a convicted felon still on probation, I don't know of any ethics rule that would prohibit Eddie Jordan from doing such a thing," Charles "Chuck" Plattsmier, chief disciplinary consul for the Louisiana Supreme Court, told Gambit Weekly. "Whether it is a smart thing to do or not is a question I will leave to your readers."
After Jordan took office in January 2003, he and Fouaud Kamal "Fred" Zeton, a professional boxer and politically connected house painter (also known as "Fred the Painter" and "the Syrian Destroyer") have been spotted dining together in restaurants including Ruth's Chris Steak House, Plantation Coffeehouse and Katie's Restaurant & Bar. New state felony charges against Zeton have sparked questions about Jordan's relationship with the convicted felon. On July 23, Zeton was apparently still on probation from a 2002 state conviction for racketeering and contract fraud when the state Attorney General's office arrested him on charges of swindling several elderly women out of more than a half-million dollars with promises of marriage and investments.
Jordan, who last week was attending the Democratic National Convention in Boston, told The Times-Picayune that he had recused his office from the case in September because of a previous relationship with Zeton. Asked by Gambit Weekly for comment about multiple public sightings of Jordan and Zeton -- as well as two contributions to Jordan's campaign from two other convicted felons -- the district attorney issued the following statement: "I made the decision to recuse my office from Mr. Fred Zeton's case because of a conflict of interest. I contracted and paid him to paint my garage, a spot of the ceiling in my home, and my front door. In fact, that was the basis for the recusal."
Zeton worked on the house before Jordan became district attorney, Jordan says. Jordan indicated that when his office received complaints of fraud against Zeton from the elderly citizens, he then referred the matter to Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr., who filed the criminal charges that put Zeton behind bars.
"I had a business relationship with Mr. Zeton prior to the activity that gave rise to these charges and before I became district attorney," Jordan says. "I had no knowledge of his alleged illegal activity." It was unclear at press time whether Jordan knew of Zeton's criminal history at the time he hired him to paint his house.
Zeton has had well-publicized complaints dating to 1996, according to the local Better Business Bureau, which is working with Foti in investigating Zeton's companies. Prior to his 2002 conviction on racketeering and contract fraud charges, Zeton had painted the homes of political luminaries such as Jordan predecessor Harry Connick and Mayor Marc Morial, according to Times-Picayune accounts. Zeton's paint job for Connick ultimately led to his prosecution. Connick apparently had no complaint with Zeton's work, but a neighbor was unsatisfied with the painter's work on his own home. Twenty-eight other citizens complained about shoddy or incomplete work, damaged property and being cheated out of thousands of dollars. In August 2002, Criminal Court Judge Julian Parker accepted Zeton's guilty plea and sentenced him to two years probation and a two-year suspended sentence, and ordered him to pay $141,000 to the 28 victims.
Meanwhile, a Gambit Weekly review of Jordan's campaign records shows that the district attorney reported separate contributions from two convicted felons. Rufus Johnson, a frequent candidate for public office and a bail bondsman with a federal felony drug conviction, donated $1,000 to Jordan's campaign in March 2003. Bail Bonds Unlimited, a Gretna-based company that has been under federal investigation for several years, donated $1,000 to Jordan in February 2003. Company owner Louis Marcotte recently pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges unrelated to Jordan's jurisdiction.
"The law does not require that a candidate for public office conduct an investigation to determine if each contributor has a criminal record," Jordan says. "I have not knowingly received contributions from any convicted felon. However, if any campaign contribution from a convicted felon is brought to my attention, I will eagerly return that money."
Jordan also says his office does not have a policy that addresses contact between employees and convicted felons. "We will immediately develop a policy that addresses this issue," Jordan says.