In sheriff's race, Fortunato accuses Lopinto of lying; Lopinto says Fortunato is desperate

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - A Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs report obtained by FOX 8 News has one candidate for sheriff labeling the other "deceitful."

Former JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato accused Sheriff Joe Lopinto of lying about surveillance video of a meeting Fortunato had in a coffee shop. Lopino firmly denies that and calls Fortunato desperate.

"I think that this interim sheriff has lied repeatedly to the citizens of Jefferson Parish, to civic organizations and business groups like the ones that are here today, and he can't be trusted, plain and simple," Fortunato told FOX 8 News Wednesday afternoon outside a venue where both he and the sheriff appeared to address Republican women.

Lopinto chocks up Fortunato's claim to dirty politics.

"This is in October. He talks about it now because his message of experience isn't resonating because he doesn't have any. You know, you get whatever free press you can get," said Lopinto, who became interim sheriff when Newell Normand retired last year and named Lopinto, his chief deputy, to the post.

The war of words involves an investigation Lopinto requested after Fortunato had a meeting at PJ's Coffee in Elmwood with some former high-ranking JPSO staffers just hours before Fortunato was to announce he was entering the sheriff's race.

According to the internal report, an off-duty JPSO deputy, Sgt. Rodney Naumann, spotted Fortunato at the business and informed Lopinto a few days later.

The report's synopsis states that Lopinto requested a picture of the meeting and that Naumaan told the sheriff he knew the coffee shop's owner and manager and could inquire about getting the video or a photo. It further states that the next day, Lopinto called his chief deputy, and during a casual conversation mentioned the video and said that he would like to have a copy of it.

The report said the chief deputy called Sgt. Naumaan and asked if he could get it during one of his breaks.

The report said eventually two detectives volunteered to help Naumaan during their break, because there had been some technical challenges initially in securing the video from the business surveillance system.

FOX 8 asked the sheriff if the deputies obtained the video on his behalf.

"Well, put it this way. It is a friend of mine that works on the department. He offered to go get it, I told him sure. Now did I order him to go get it? No. Did not happen. Did he offer to go get it and I told him yes? Yes, absolutely. But the reality of it is I didn't order him to get a video. I didn't order anybody to go get a video, and when they got it, they didn't even tell me about," said the sheriff.

Weeks ago, Lopinto told the media that if the deputies went to the coffee house to help his campaign, they shouldn't have.

Fortunato said the sheriff is throwing the deputies under the bus.

"For the interim sheriff to say over and over again that he didn't know about this incident at the coffee shop until he received the public records request from FOX 8 is a bald-faced lie. I know for a fact, based on the people I interviewed and the investigation I conducted - by the way, he should have had an independent organization conduct it. But based on what I learned, their accounts were accurate," Fortunato said.

When asked by FOX 8 News if he was lying as Fortunato alleges, Lopinto said, "No. And to be honest with you, I still haven't seen the video. I could care less about the video."

And while Lopinto said he had no prior knowledge that his deputy was at the same coffee shop with Fortunato that October day, he also said as the campaign wears on, he is being followed and videotaped.

"His campaign follows me and videotapes me at every forum. Guess what? It's expected," said Lopinto.

The JPSO investigator who signed the report, Maj. William Boudreax, said the investigation revealed that no one was "ordered" by the sheriff to obtain a video or photograph from the business; that no one was asked to participate during work hours by the sheriff; that Naumaan was a personal friend of the owner and his request was of a personal nature, and that no department equipment was used. Boudreaux also wrote that no one intentionally violated the Code of Conduct.

"They all belong to the same fraternity. He's going to say all the things that he's supposed to be told to say," said Fortunato.

"You know, our officers went out of their way to make sure that they weren't on duty…that they didn't use a JPSO flash-drive, you know, to download it. You know what? Everybody makes mistakes," said Lopinto.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.