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November 10, 2006
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La. ex-cop gets five years in scandal

By Bruce Hamilton, St. Tammany bureau

A former Abita Springs police lieutenant was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to an array of charges in connection with a corruption scandal that wracked the small department.

Panagiotis "Takis" Kondylis' surprise plea came on a day when town officials were set to consider a proposal by Sheriff Jack Strain to contract his deputies' services to Abita Springs, a plan that could entail replacing the town's police department with a substation. Kondylis' trial was scheduled to begin in 19 days.

With his plea, the cash-for-commissions saga that erupted in summer 2003 takes a leap toward closure. Kondylis' long-delayed trial has held up the sentencing of former Police Chief James Lala and Lt. Benny Garcia, both of whom were expected to testify against Kondylis.

Kondylis pleaded guilty to theft, public bribery, malfeasance in office, racketeering, extortion, public intimidation, three drug possession charges and two misdemeanors -- obstruction of a court order and possession of stolen property, according to St. Tammany Parish district attorney's office spokesman Rick Wood.

Kondylis made no statement in court, Wood said. His attorney, Robert Stern, could not be reached for comment.

State Judge William Burris sentenced Kondylis to five years for every felony except the extortion charge, for which Kondylis received 2 1/2 years, Wood said. Each misdemeanor garnered a six-month incarceration, and all terms are to be served simultaneously.

The three drugs were diazepam, Trenbolone and Nandrolone, according to Wood. Diazepam is a generic form of Valium, and the other two are anabolic steroids. The obstruction charge, lodged in February, refers to a court-mandated condition that Kondylis have no contact with witnesses, Wood said.

The charge of possession of stolen property stems from sports equipment that belonged to a local retailer, according to Wood. The other counts arose from the sale of police commissions for cash; investigation revealed the six-member department had issued as many as 200 to civilians.

The former lieutenant initially feigned ignorance of those transactions. He told investigators that honorary badges were given to volunteers who worked the town's bingo games and annual garage sale. He later admitted having taken money but claimed he had given it all to Lala, the former chief.

Investigators also said Kondylis sold a night-vision scope that belonged to a state agency from which officers could check out police equipment. They alleged a $5,500 check he cashed was payment for the scope.

Kondylis' trial was delayed in part because he could not receive medication he needed while incarcerated at St. Tammany Parish Prison. Without it, court-ordered psychiatric evaluation found, he lacked "the mental capacity to understand the proceeding against him or assist in his defense."

His attorney and court officials have declined to specify Kondylis' medical condition, but the medication is identified in court records as Depakote, which is approved as a treatment for epilepsy, migraine headaches and bipolar disorder.

After Burris sent Kondylis to a state hospital, enabling him to receive the medication, the judge deemed him competent to stand trial Sept. 11. A jail official confirmed Kondylis was taken into custody at Parish Prison on Tuesday, apparently in anticipation of his plea.

Sentencing for Lala, who pleaded guilty Dec. 11, 2003, to malfeasance and bribery charges, has not been scheduled. Garcia, who pleaded guilty to malfeasance in office and unauthorized use of movable property May 7, 2004, is scheduled to be sentenced today, according to Wood.

Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

Full story: La. ex-cop gets five years in scandal

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