By John Simerman | NOLA.com | July 9, 2021
Shane Guidry, the Louisiana oilman and major GOP political donor, needed help.
On a Saturday night in late January, Guidry’s adolescent daughter found out — via a text message from her biological mother — that she was adopted as a toddler.
Lacey Hooper, who has bounced between Mississippi and Louisiana over the years, yearned to reconnect with her daughter. She set up an anonymous TikTok account and “friended” the girl, then revealed the blood relation in a deluge of emotional texts.
The girl asked for proof, before one text shifted the tone.
“this is shane, if you contact (her) again, we will have you arrested. are we clear.”
It was no idle threat. Soon, the Louisiana Attorney General’s office had agents out looking for Hooper, first in Louisiana and then in Mississippi — even hunting down her brother — even though there was no indication a crime had been committed.
Guidry is a key supporter and benefactor of Attorney General Jeff Landry who has moonlighted as an agent in Landry’s office himself. To Rafael Goyeneche, president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, the whole thing reeks of political favoritism.
“All this paper says to me is that the attorney general’s office did a favor for one of the largest financial supporters of Jeff Landry,” Goyeneche said after reviewing an “investigative memo” that describes the agents’ efforts.
“There’s no justification for this. This isn’t a criminal investigation. I don’t see anything in here that even identifies a criminal violation. There are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing in any of this.”
The agents who went looking for Hooper came from the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, Landry’s detective division, records show. The agents enlisted local law enforcement officers in Mississippi. The Feb. 10 road trip by three of the AG’s investigators included a stop in Hancock County and another in Long Beach, where they dropped in on her brother, Blake Hooper.
Hooper recalled a gaggle of agents, including supervising special agent John “Mike” Montalbano, showing up at his doorstep.
“They were asking where Lacey was and were relaying a message,” he said in a phone interview in May. “They eventually said they had paperwork with them, saying she wasn’t to contact her daughter or post on social media.”
Montalbano left a dog-eared business card. Soon, Lacey Hooper, 31, reached him by phone, according to the memo, dated a few days later and obtained by the newspaper through a public-records request. At the end of the conversation, Montalbano wrote, Hooper agreed not to contact the girl without authorization.
Guidry, who is independently wealthy and serves as CEO of Harvey Gulf International, the oilfield-services company his family started, has also held down a part-time job in Landry’s office under the title “special agent/investigator,” for which he was paid $12,000 annually, state records show. In May, he said he remained working as an adviser for Landry’s office.
A spokesman for Landry’s office said then that Guidry had been on “unpaid leave” as a special agent since 2017 but declined to answer questions about other roles. Guidry’s status hasn’t changed since, the spokesman said Friday.
Landry, meanwhile, boosted his own annual income by between $50,000 and $100,000 last year when he took a seat on Harvey Gulf’s board, according to a recent public filing.
Guidry has said he brought aboard Landry for his legal mind, although state law bars the attorney general from moonlighting in the practice of law.
Guidry claimed in a 2017 interview that he helped build up Landry’s investigative division, whose agents recently came to his aid.
“I rebranded the unit to become the LBI, Louisiana Bureau of Investigation,” Guidry said. “I instituted new hiring practices and procedures which resulted in new, very seasoned agents.”
Goyeneche noted pointedly that Montalbano in his memo never cites a possible crime. The memo also acknowledged that “original” jurisdiction in the case belonged elsewhere, although the parish that Montalbano named is blacked out in the partially redacted copy that Landry’s office provided.
Still, Landry’s agents agreed that “due to the seriousness of the allegations they would investigate the matter and would be willing to assist,” the memo states.
Landry’s office was not Guidry’s first stop when the offending texts arrived. Guidry first reported Hooper’s communication to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, where he’d long served as a reserve deputy.
Two of Sheriff Joe Lopinto’s deputies joined Montalbano to interview Guidry, but only Landry’s agents made the trip to Mississippi, according to Montalbano’s memo.
A report dated Feb. 12 by JPSO Sgt. Terri Danna says Guidry’s complaint was investigated as a “possible cyberstalking” but that deputies determined it “does not meet the elements of a crime.”
Cory Dennis, a spokesman for Landry’s office, declined to respond to questions about the Mississippi trip or what alleged crimes the AG’s agents were investigating.
“The safety and welfare of children has always been a top priority of the Attorney General, and when we were notified about a concern involving criminals contacting a child on a social media app, we assisted,” Dennis said.
Still, Dennis said it was “our office practice to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation and to not comment on ongoing investigations.”
Dennis did not respond to questions about Guidry’s current status in the attorney general’s office, or whether Montalbano’s request to close the case was granted.
As for the drive across state lines, Dennis insisted that it was “not uncommon for agents to travel out of state from time to time over the course of an investigation.”
Mileage logs for the New Orleans-based agents, however, show that the Mississippi trip marked the only case over the first four months of the year for which any of them reported driving out of state. The logs include records for a dozen agents in the bureau.
Just who directed those agents to investigate the complaint against Hooper is left open in the memo, which says only that Montalbano “was advised” on Feb. 8 to contact Guidry’s attorney, Michael Thomas of Metairie.
The next day, LBI agents searched several Louisiana addresses for Hooper, to no avail, according to the memo. They drove to Mississippi in two vehicles the following day.
After describing the agents’ efforts over three days — which included digging up criminal histories and scouring social media for Hooper and her boyfriend, Nicholas Knopp, who had also entered the text exchange — Montalbano asked that the case be closed.
Thomas said in a phone interview that he wouldn’t discuss the case because it involves a juvenile.
The name of the complainant is redacted in a copy of the two-page memo, but the same allegations appear under Guidry’s name in the JPSO report, as well as in a civil court matter in Jefferson Parish that was filed on Feb. 11, the day after Landry’s agents returned from Mississippi.
That case resulted in a temporary restraining order against Hooper and Knopp, the girl’s biological father, barring them from contacting her. Knopp is on parole in Mississippi.
A civil judge’s order, with the threat of contempt-of-court charges that could bring criminal penalties for violating the terms of the adoption, was the proper recourse for Guidry based on Hooper’s alleged contact with the girl, but instead, he got special treatment, Goyeneche said.
Goyeneche described the investigation as “a shameless abuse of power” aimed at trying to intimidate Lacey Hooper.
“An average person could not call on the investigative division to go spend two days tracking down the biological mother and tell her to stop calling and contacting the child,” he said. “It’s another example of a quid-pro-quo, good-old-boy network.”
Numerous attempts to interview Lacey Hooper for this story were not successful.
On Feb. 11, another special agent in Landry’s office, Frank LaBruzzo, notified Guidry’s attorney that Hooper had agreed not to contact the girl. That same day, Shane and Holley Guidry filed for the temporary restraining order, court records show.
The civil filing claims that Hooper and Knopp violated a 2013 judgment that said contact with the biological family “shall be at the discretion and under the supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Guidry, in accordance with the best interest of the minor child.”
Shane Guidry acknowledged in an affidavit that he told Hooper and Knopp that he would “contact the authorities” if they didn’t stop. There is no mention of the efforts of Landry’s agents.
A hearing officer, Theresa Piglia, granted the restraining order on Feb. 22. Court records show only failed attempts to serve Lacey Hooper and Knopp with notice at an address in New Orleans.