Lee Zurik Investigation: Walter Reed’s $29,400 bar tab

St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed (left) and son Steven Reed
St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed (left) and son Steven Reed

Travis Sanders has been mixing drinks for 15 years.

"I tell people all the time, I tell my wife all the time," he says, "there's no place I'd rather be than behind the bar."

He's an instructor at the Crescent City School of Bartending. He also tends bar at New Orleans' Hotel Monteleone and at private parties and weddings.

"I have a beverage catering company," he tells us. "In a party, the most I've ever made was a thousand dollars."

When we show him an invoice from Walter Reed's Sept. 2012 fundraiser at the Castine Center in Mandeville, Sanders says, "Get out of here! Wait, really? No…"

It's how much Reed, the St Tammany Parish District Attorney, paid his son Steven's company, Liquid Bread, LLC, to handle bar services at his fundraiser - $29,400.

"That's not possible," Sanders says. "29 grand? $29,400? That's ridiculous. That's half of my salary in a year."

We obtained the Castine Center's entire folder on the event, in which they detail and document the caterer, the band and the production companies, and even list the bartenders.

That folder has no mention of Steven Reed or his company, Liquid Bread.

"So what is Steven Reed doing for this $29,000, I guess, is the big question," says UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak.

The Castine Center's folder gives a layout of the event. It includes a list of every bartender. We've identified all but two - they're all connected to Walter Reed's office as either employees or spouses of employees.

That parallels what the head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission has heard for years about Walter Reed's annual fundraisers.

"The annual fundraisers are usually staffed by the employees of his office," says Rafael Goyeneche. "I've had [assistant district attorneys] contact me and complain about that, going back over 10 years ago.

When we ask Goyeneche if those ADA's said they were paid for such events, he says, "Of course they weren't."

Remember - Steven Reed was paid for bar services at this event. He told us in a Facebook message that those services included "everything needed to open and operate the bar… except" he didn't buy the "alcohol."

So if Steven Reed didn't provide or pay the bartenders, what did he do to earn the $29,000?

"There is a mechanism in which free labor is essentially supplied," says Goyeneche. "So it makes a case, that you're documenting right there with the expense of $29,000, even more questionable… There is no alcohol, and you can't say that that individual was responsible for having to pay the help that worked there."

The Castine Center folder includes other details about the bar. It says a DA's employee, Mike Swords, would handle "supplies and ice for" the "function." Another employee of Walter Reed, "Jerry," would be "coordinating" and "maintain" bar setups.

And in another section of the folder, it says the "key contact persons" for the bar would be "Bart, Jerry, Rick, Mike or Hammy" - sources tell us these are all DA employees. And the Castine Center folder shows that "Mike Swords will be the go to guy for the bars in general, he will be able to locate any supplies, ice, etc. you may need."

Walter Reed paid his son $29,400 for bar services, but he's not the go-to guy - and again, he is never even mentioned in the event records.

"Where's this $29,000… what's it for? Chervenak wonders. "Is he really getting anything in return for the money that he's spending from this campaign finance account?"

Walter Reed paid his son $12 per person. Steven said that's based on two drinks being served to each person at the event. Remember, Steven didn't buy the alcohol, so his father's campaign paid him based on simply serving the two drinks.

"Realistically that's… I can't imagine that's real," Travis Sanders tells us. "You don't charge by the head if you're not providing the liquor."

And Steven Reed was paid based on 2,450 people attending the event. But according to the Castine Center records, only 1,600-1,800 people attended.

But there's more.

Steven Reed also owns a production company, Globop. And over the past few years, Walter Reed's campaign has also paid that company for various production expenses.

In 2009, his campaign wrote Globop a $14,000 check for producing an anti-drug video.

We put in a public records request to get a copy of that video. On Monday, the deadline passed for the DA to produce it; he still hasn't.

"What's really going on here?" asks Chervenak. "Is this just an extreme case of nepotism, in terms of just handing over money to your son?"

Four of those payments to Globop were made while Walter Reed was listed as an officer of the company. State records show the DA was a director of Globop from 2011- 2013. And during that time, he paid the company $12,042.29.

Chervenak says, "It just seems that this is a way for a father to funnel money to his son, to kind of support his family."

But the biggest payment from Reed to his family came in 2012, to provide bar services for that annual fundraiser at the Castine Center - $29,400.

We asked Sanders if he's ever heard of such a payment for basic bar services, not including the cost of the alcohol itself. "No," he answers. "Five grand, maybe, might be the most."

Sanders says the DA could have called him and saved his campaign most of that money. When we asked how much it would have cost for him to put a team together for the event, he responds, "For 18-hundred people, I'm going to say… I don't know, probably $2,000. That sounds about right, $2,000."

It's a $29,400 payment that might have cost $2,000 - and that assumes Steven Reed paid the bartenders who again, sources say, were employees of or connected to the DA's office.

Since 2006, Walter Reed has paid his son's companies almost $100,000 in campaign money. It's unclear exactly what the DA got in return for any of those payments. That includes the $29,400 that the campaign paid out in 2012 for the annual fundraiser.

If Steven Reed didn't buy the alcohol, didn't supply or pay the bartenders, and didn't even work at the event - as the Castine Center folder suggests - just what did he do to earn that money from the campaign?

It's a serious question for a public official first elected in 1984, 30 years ago - a public official who's spent much of his adult life enforcing the law.

"You have, in this particular instance, a district attorney who has taken oath to follow all the laws of Louisiana," says Goyeneche. "And if you can't expect high standards from the district attorney of a parish, then I think that the public begins to lose confidence in politicians in general, and the criminal justice system in particular."

Walter Reed told us Wednesday afternoon by email that the video was provided to a public access channel in Washington Parish. He doesn't have a copy of it

Reed also says there's confusion, apparently by his son, about his participation in the fundraiser. Reed says his son shut down a local lounge around the time of that fundraiser. Reed writes that his son "misunderstood your original inquiry and he indicated to me he did not purchase the liquor for the function, but used the inventory from his closed business to provide the services and supplies."

Here is Steven Reed's response to us again from last week: "LB [Liquid Bread] was hired to provide the bar setups and services, not the alcohol itself."

In another message, Steven Reed said he was only paid for bar setup. We asked what that meant. He wrote the following:

basically, everything needed to operate an open bar, except the alcohol. (no purchase or transportation of beer, wine, or liquor)

That seems to be different from what the DA told us in his statement Wednesday.

Again, the Castine Center folder makes no mention of Steven Reed handling alcohol, but does mention that a Budweiser truck would be at the event.

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