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Prosecutors quiz workers about taping

Author(s): PETER SHINK.I.E Date: November 15, !997 Section:

city

Prosecutors on Friday questioned a top state Insurance Department employee before a federal grand jury about audio taping in the office of Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown. Prosecutors asked Patrick Frantz, deputy commissioner of finance and management, about tapes and the purchase of taping equipment, said Frantz's attorney, Tommy Damico.

Damico said his client has no knowledge of how extensive taping may have been, or of any purchases of taping equipment.

Frantz spoke "as a witness, not a subject, not a target. He spoke to the grand jurors and answered all of their questions," Damico said.

Meanwhile, Brown, in brief comments to reporters, repeated assistant commissioner Allan Pursncll's statement Thursday that any taping in his office was just like that in any other office,

"We have dictaphones but nothing a normal office wouldn't have," the Associated Press reported Brown said. Asked whether he taped telephone conversations, Brown replied, "Absolutely not."

Brown was subpoenaed last week to bring to the grand jury any tapes made in his office from 1992 to the present.

In the subpoena, prosecutors also ordered Brown to bring any records on the purchase of taping equipment for his office.

Brown declined to comment Friday on what he might have told the grand jury.

"I'm having fun, having fun," he said with a laugh as reporters followed him through the parking lot at the federal courthouse here.

Prosecutors refused to comment.

Another person who appeared before the grand jury was deputy commissioner Ronnie Johnson, who handles the Department of Insurance's work with two state funds that pay off claims against failed insurers.

Johnson's attorney, Millar Moore III, said Johnson appeared before the grand jury as a witness only and is not a target of the probe.

"He's going to tel! the truth," Moore said, declining to discuss the specifics of Johnson's testimony.

Another witness was I lelen Smith, Brown's secretary.

Her attorney, Carl Babin, said the FBI called her Thursday night and asked her to appear before the grand jury at 9 a.m. on Friday.

items prosecutors asked Brown to turn over in April were telephone message log books, contracts, letters and appointment calendars.

Disiere owned Cascade Insurance Co., a failed insurance company that attorneys for the state repeatedly probed for possible lawsuits to recover funds owed to the company.

Last year, Disiere settled potential claims against him by agreeing to pay an estimated $2.6 million to a state fund that had paid debts left behind by Cascade's collapse.

That settlement was handled by the Louisiana Receivership Office, a division of the insurance department that has been under the control of the state District Court here since 1995.

When the FBI searched the home of former Gov. Edwin Edwards in April, it was armed with a warrant to seize records relating to a $100,000 payment by one of Disiere's attorneys to Edwards.

Disiere's attorneys later said Edwards was hired to provide legal advice in the complex case.

Brown has said he spoke with Edwards about the Cascade case, but took no steps to help Edwards or Disiere.

Copyright 1997 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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