By Tom Aswell | Louisiana Voice | February 14, 2020

A two-hour public corruption forum in Abita Springs Thursday night produced little in the way of solutions to the growing problem of official wrongdoing in St. Tammany Parish but one question from an audience member did produce a buzz among the audience and some uncomfortable tap dancing from participants on the four-man panel brought in to address the issues.

The forum, presented by the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) was scheduled to have as participants District Attorney Warren Montgomery, Sheriff Randy Smith, Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street, New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) President Rafael Goyeneche, and representatives from the Louisiana State Police and the FBI.

The FBI and state police were no-shows and Smith sent his public information officer in his stead with the explanation that a family situation prevented his attending (although the family business didn’t prevent him from responding to a lawsuit against him and two of his deputies stemming from an unconstitutional arrest of a local citizen last September).

Street dominated the show, taking the spotlight from the others with long and convoluted answers to questions while Goyeneche explained the workings of the MCC whenever given the chance to speak.

Smith issued an online statement that he was confident that a lawsuit filed by former St. Tammany deputy Jerry Rogers for his arrest for criminal defamation, an offense long since declared unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court, “will prove to be frivolous and without merit.”

Smith went on to say, “It is a shame we must waste taxpayer dollars to defend such frivolous suits.” He called the suit “nothing more than another politically-charged stunt by members of the former Strain administration while neglecting to note he had been advised by Montgomery’s office before seeking Rogers’s arrest for sending emails critical of the department’s investigation of a still-unsolved murder in St. Tammany Parish that such an arrest was unconstitutional.

The fact that the attorney general’s office refused to pursue the case against Rogers apparently failed to register on Smith’s taxpayer waste-o-meter.

But the hot topic, brief though it was, was raised in the form of a written question sent forward by an audience member:

“Should a person of interest in a murder case who refuses to cooperate with authorities and who refuses to take phone calls from investigators be allowed to serve as a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission?”

The question, apparently directed at State Police Commission member Jared Caruso-Riecke, a St. Tammany Parish resident, sent an excited murmur through the crowd and sent panelists fumbling for a diplomatic, if uncomfortable response.

Caruso-Riecke’s business partner Bruce Cucchiara was gunned down in the parking lot of a New Orleans East apartment complex on April 24, 2012.

The murder remains unsolved.

Cucchiara worked for the RIECKE FAMILY in Covington and at one time ran the Southeastern Louisiana Water & Sewer Co., before it was purchased by the St. Tammany Parish government in a controversial 2010 DEAL.

Caruso-Riecke had a LIFE INSURANCE POLICIY on Cucchiara with New York Life totaling some $5 million, his children said.

Cucchiara also has signed a promissory note as security on some real estate property to Caruso-Riecke only 20 days before he was killed.

CAITLIN PICOU, Cucchiara’s daughter, said Caruso-Riecke gave an initial statement to investigators but since then, the detective “has reached out to him but he declined to speak. They’ve reached out to his lawyer, as well, and he’s declined as well.”

“This (Cucchiara) was his best friend and he (Caruso-Riecke) won’t cooperate with investigators,” Chris Cucchiara said.

But, he added, Caruso-Riecke told him and Caitlin that he’d deleted some of the elder Cucchiara’s emails in an effort to “clean up” any personal messages.

Picou and her brother, Chris Cucchiara said when police did not clear Caruso-Riecke, thereby freeing the life insurance company to pay the benefit, “he (Caruso-Riecke) filed suit. Chris Cucchiara also said he was told by investigators that they did not want to clear Caruso-Riecke, “but we got a lot of pressure from higher-ups who live on the North Shore (St. Tammany) that we need to release the money.

It’s not clear where such pressure was coming from, but despite investigators’ having not cleared him as being implicated in the murder, Caruso-Riecke SUED New York Life on Aug. 7, 2012 to obtain the benefits of the life insurance policy on his business partner. Inexplicably, he filed his lawsuit in federal court in Baton Rouge instead of New Orleans, which would have normally been the proper venue for a St. Tammany resident.

Regardless, New York Life apparently decided not to fight him and the lawsuit was DISMISSED in Caruso-Riecke’s favor on Oct. 1.