Caddo commissioner set to stand trial right before October election

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SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Caddo Parish Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne is now set to stand trial on wire fraud and money laundering charges just two weeks before election day in his bid for another term.

Cawthorne and his sister, Belena Turner, are accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a summer food programs for kids. 

They were initially indicted in April 2018 on eight counts of wire fraud-related charges. Another 18 counts of money laundering charges were added to their indictments in February 2019

The U.S Department of Agriculture’s Summer Feeding Service Program was established to ensure that children in low-income areas continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session during the summer.

Cawthorne and Turner are accused of inflating the number of children fed through their non-profit United Citizens and Neighborhoods (UCAN) as a sponsor of the federal program to funnel more than $536,000 into their private catering companies for their personal benefit. The government alleges Cawthorne and Turner engaged in money laundering transactions to conceal the payment of personal expenses, including private school payments, travel, furniture, clothing, car repairs, meals at restaurants, and campaign expenses. 

Both Cawthorne and Turner were originally set to stand trial in January 2019 before they successfully argued for more time to prepare a defense. 

A trial date was later set for August 5, 2019 and was expected to take two weeks but was later moved to July 15, 2019 because of a scheduling conflict with the FBI Special Agent handling the case. However, the court was unable to accommodate a two week trial on that date and offered “a host of viable trial dates and asked the parties to consult with one another to select one of those dates.”

Agreeing on a new trial date proved difficult according to an order filed Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Foote.

“The difficulty for the parties was in agreeing on another mutually-convenient trial date that would not interfere with the fall election in which Cawthorne plans to participate.”

The election is October 12.

In that order, Judge Foote set the trial for September 30, a date both sides agreed upon in a conference call last week.

“The Court finds the ends of justice served by continuing this trial, given the unique facts of this case, the nature of the pending charges, the recent superseding indictment against these Defendants, the voluminous nature of discovery, and in order to allow for effective preparation by counsel for the Defendants and the Government, taking into account the exercise of due diligence, outweigh the public’s and Defendants’ rights to a speedy trial.”

Both Cawthorne and Turner have pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, both Cawthorne and Turner face 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, restitution and a $250,000 fine for each count.

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