04/01/2006

Ex-top La. cop who sold crack gets 7 yrs. in prison, probation

By Matt Scallan, River Parishes bureau
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Former Lutcher Police Chief Corey Pittman, who pleaded guilty to selling crack cocaine while in office, was sentenced Wednesday to more than seven years in prison and three years of supervised probation, according to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan sentenced Pittman to 92 months in prison. He pleaded guilty in December to selling 56.1 grams of crack cocaine to undercover officers.

Pittman, 30, who was elected police chief in 2002, allegedly sold the drug to undercover agents on three occasions. He was arrested Aug. 17, 2005.

Though Pittman could have been sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison on each count, Letten said he was pleased with the judge's decision.

"It was a good, carefully fashioned sentence that was within what is prescribed by the sentencing guidelines," he said.

Berrigan apparently took into account Pittman's decision to plead guilty and take responsibility for his actions, Letten said.

Pittman is eligible for up to a 15 percent reduction in his sentence for good behavior, but federal convicts are not eligible for parole as they are under state sentences, Letten said.

Letten said his office would tolerate no abuses by officials who are sworn to protect and serve the public.

"My special thanks go out to the extraordinary men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and our partners in the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office who rescued the town of Lutcher, La., from a drug dealer who masqueraded as their police chief," he said.

Lutcher's population of 3,600 is still recovering from the shock of Pittman's arrest.

It disbanded its Police Department after Pittman's arrest and is contracting with the parish Sheriff's Office for protection at a cost of $4,500 a month, at least until a Sept. 30 election to pick a new chief, Mayor Troas Poche said.

"That's less than we were paying for the department," he said. "We had some complaints about visibility at first, but now we've got two officers who work 12-hour shifts, so I think we've solved that problem. It's working out very well," he said.

Poche said he is pushing the town's Board of Aldermen to continue the arrangement and do away with the elected chief's job, but that decision would have be approved by the town's voters before the election, he said.

Earl White, who was appointed interim chief by Gov. Kathleen Blanco this month, has no law enforcement experience. But White, who is the former director of human services for the parish, said he answers complaints and serves as a liaison between residents and deputies. The job pays $24,000 a year.

"I see the job as doing community relations and letting the police officers do the work," he said. "I have the power to make arrests, but I would let the deputies do that unless it was an emergency."

White said many of the crimes that occur in the town involve domestic disputes and an occasional theft.

"There is some dope floating around here, but we don't have a lot of serious crime," he said. "We're getting good service from the Sheriff's Office."

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