Former FBI agent claims Harry Morel case mishandled by federal prosecutors

Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 6:15 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -There are explosive allegations against the U.S. Attorney’s Office from a former FBI agent turned whistleblower. At the center of those claims are how federal prosecutors handled the high-profile case against former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel. Morel was accused of granting leniency in exchange for sexual favors.

Now, for the first time, a 2016 letter to the federal judge who presided over the Morel case has been made public in its entirety. Whistleblower and former FBI agent Mike Zummer says he had to sue the FBI to finally get it released years after he wrote it. It details alleged misconduct on the part of the federal prosecutors in the case against Morel that Zummer says ultimately led to the former St. Charles Parish D.A. getting a plea deal instead of a more serious racketeering or RICO indictment.

“We had approval from Washington D.C., which is required to get any RICO charge and what happened is the local office basically took over,” said Zummer. ”They decided to negotiate with Morel and really those negotiations I believe were compromised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s own interest in covering up what it had done in 2013 by declining the case and the ethical issues then.”

Zummer says those ethical issues involved Morel’s defense attorney Ralph Capitelli and an Assistant US Attorney. He says the two owned a Gulf Coast condo together. In 2013, Zummer filed a complaint against that Assistant U.S. Attorney with the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General asking that he recuse himself from matters involving Capitelli.

“That caused a significant amount of retaliation from members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, so, we had a really hard time getting the Morel case prosecuted, it was declined again in 2013 and then we continued to look for more witnesses but really didn’t have the support that we needed,” Zummer said.

Morel pleaded guilty in 2016 to obstruction of justice as part of a case that alleged he used his position of power to trade leniency for sexual favors. In his letter to the federal judge, Zummer wrote,” We had found more than 20 witnesses with whom Morel had oral sex, other sexual contact or from whom Morel had asked for sex in connection with his position as District Attorney or Assistant District Attorney between 1986 and 2012.” That included Danielle Keim McGovern. McGovern recorded a video as part of the FBI investigation into Morel. She died of an overdose in 2013, the day after her story went public.

“Danielle had made comments to me all the time that she had wanted to be believed, you know, she felt like she was just being thrown away and again we had him on tape with her, so, there really wasn’t any doubt that she was telling us the truth and had been telling us the truth and really all of these women deserved to have this kind of confirmation of what had been done to them,” said Zummer.

Zummer also wrote to the judge, “I learned that Morel’s behavior was described by at least one AUSA (Assistant US Attorney) as ‘just an old guy having fun,’ having interviewed each victim, I found that characterization to be far from accurate.”

Zummer objected to Morel’s plea offer and said the victims deserved justice in the form of an indictment.

“You know these women were heroes, you know Danielle Keim McGovern was a hero, the other women who had the wherewithal to tell us what had happened to them were heroes and they were treated like trash by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Zummer. “They charged him with harassing a witness, it’s a lower level obstruction of justice count, when he actually, we had evidence on tape that he had committed 20-year counts of obstruction of justice along with the racketeering charge as well.”

Zummer claims the mishandling of the Morel matter is not an isolated incident. He wrote in his 2016 letter,” Based upon what I have seen and heard, I believe there is systemic corruption in the Justice Department. The FBI uncovers corruption and the Justice Department covers it back up again.”

Zummer says he believes reform is needed. “And, that reform is only going to come from transparency,” Zummer said.

Zummer says coming forward cost him his career. He says he was fired by the FBI last May.

Records show Morel served less than two years of a three-year prison sentence.

We contacted Morel’s defense attorney, Ralph Capitelli. He says these are claims by a disgraced and fired FBI agent and says this was looked at by the Federal Inspector General and found to have no merit.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment for our story. The FBI says it does not comment on personnel matters.

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