With less than two months to go until Election Day, newly surfaced allegations that a Republican congressman from Louisiana slept with prostitutes who were later murdered in a series of unsolved killings are making a splash in a crowded U.S. Senate race.
The outlandish charges against Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) received national press attention this week, after Boustany’s campaign released a denial from his wife that prompted his opponents in the Senate race to play up those allegations in their own statements that denied having had any hand in the prostitution story.
The strident denials from Boustany’s wife and his campaign prompt the question of whether there is actually anything to the claims outlined in “Murder in the Bayou,” a book published Tuesday by Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner. Journalist Ethan Brown reported in the book that multiple anonymous sources told him Boustany had sexual relationships with several of the eight sex workers who were found murdered in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana between 2005-2009.
Brown also confirmed that a longtime Boustany aide, Martin Guillory, co-leased an inn in the city of Jennings that was known to police as a hotbed of prostitution and had met “one or two” of the victims before their deaths. Boustany’s staffers said that Guillory concealed his involvement in the motel from them and that he left his post as a field representative for the campaign last week.
The penultimate chapter of “Murder in the Bayou” is spent spooling out the alleged ties between Boustany and the women now known as the “Jeff Davis 8.” While Brown wrote there was “no evidence” that Boustany had “any involvement with the murders,” he recounted conversations with three anonymous individuals who told him that Boustany had slept with several of the victims.
Boustany’s staff has dismissed the allegations against the congressman as “completely false.”
“Dr. Boustany has a professional and personal reputation of honor and integrity. We are confident the people of Louisiana will see these lies for the political tabloid fodder they are,” campaign spokesman Jack Pandol told the Associated Press in a statement.
Boustany is a heart surgeon with deep ties to state government who was first elected to serve Louisiana in Congress in 2005. He represented the Seventh Congressional District, which included Jefferson Davis Parish, until 2013, when redistricting merged that territory into a redrawn Third Congressional District. Boustany has served on the House Ways and Means Committee, has an “A” rating from the NRA, and is campaigning for Senate on a platform of boosting energy production in the Bayou State, reducing taxes and supporting traditional “Louisiana values.” The congressman has never been accused of any impropriety before, making the claims set forth in “Murder in the Bayou” all the more startling.
How credible are the claims outlined in the book?
The author, Brown, also has a solid reputation. So he can’t be easily dismissed as an unknown quantity or someone without an accomplished journalistic background. It seems unlikely he would manufacture such charges or report them without a solid reportorial basis. As a reporter and author of four books, Brown has extensively covered crime in Louisiana, drug policy, and the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina for respected publications including New York Magazine, The Guardian and Mother Jones. His previous non-fiction work, “Shake The Devil Off,” about an Iraq War veteran’s murder-suicide in New Orleans, was named one of the best books of 2009 by the Washington Post.
“Murder in the Bayou” grew out of Brown’s lengthy investigative feature story about the unsolved murders of eight female prostitutes whose bodies were found in the swamps and canals around Jennings in the mid- to late-2000s. Brown wrote that while reporting the book, two individuals told him that Boustany had sexual relationships with at least two of the homicide victims. He also wrote that he uncovered information he said a “witness,” whom he didn’t describe further, had given to a police task force alleging that Boustany slept with one of the victims.
Those anonymous accounts are far from a smoking gun. Another Bayou State politician, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), whom Boustany is running to replace, lost his bid for Louisiana governor last year amid a prostitution scandal in which a sex worker by the name of Wendy Ellis publicly accused Vitter of forcing her to get an abortion after impregnating her. And, of course, Vitter had infamously admitted he committed a “very serious sin” after his phone number was found on the call list of a well-known Washington, D.C.-based madam in 2007.
There is no documentary evidence connecting Boustany to prostitutes and no named accuser in “Murder in the Bayou.” There are, however, common threads running between the three accounts Brown provides.
Brown reported that he was first tipped off in 2012 to a possible connection between Boustany and the “Jeff Davis 8” by Frankie Richard, the man who served as a pimp to the murdered women. Richard told Brown in a phone call “you need to investigate him,” referring to Boustany, before asking if the conversation was being recorded and promptly hanging up the phone.
Brown wrote that he didn’t pursue the tip until two years later, when a former Jennings sex worker, who had spoken to the police task force investigating the murders, told him in an interview “that Boustany was a well-regarded client of at least three of the Jeff Davis 8 victims” and that he had been “at the Boudreaux Inn,” a motel in Jennings where many of the victims rendezvoused with their clients.
A friend of several of the victims, who Brown said he did not identify “out of concern for her safety,” made similar claims in a 2015 interview with the author.
The anonymous woman told Brown that two of the prostitutes had told her Boustany was their client, and one said she frequently met with Boustany at the Boudreaux Inn.
Brown said that after that interview, he learned that a third individual, referred to only as Witness A, contacted the police task force in 2012 to inform officers that Boustany “engaged in sexual activity with at least one of the Jeff Davis 8 victims.”
Brown contacted Boustany’s office in May 2016 to ask about the allegations. A spokesman told Brown that the congressman “has never had any contact with any of the eight victims” and that, to the spokesman’s knowledge, he “hasn’t ever visited that establishment,” referring to the Boudreaux Inn.
A longtime Boustany staffer was intimately involved in the operation of the inn, however. Martin Guillory, who had worked for Boustany since his first run for Congress in 2003-2004, co-leased the property from 1999-2004, a period Brown referred to as the “height of its role in the Jennings sex-and-drug trade.” Police incident reports accessed by Brown detail multiple incidents at the inn involving the “Jeff Davis 8” victims and one 2003 incident in which Guillory himself allegedly pointed a gun at someone on the premises.
Guillory confirmed to Brown that he previously ran the inn, though he denied knowing that any criminal activity took place there. He said that he met “one or two” of the murder victims, and that he couldn’t remember Boustany visiting the inn though “he may have.”
Boustany’s campaign said that Guillory never informed them about his involvement in the motel, and told the AP that he ended his role as a field representative for Boustany’s Senate race last week.
Boustany will face off against 23 other candidates in the Nov. 8 election for the open Senate seat. Experts in crisis management, including former Florida congressman Trey Radel, who was forced to resign from office after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge, said if Boustany hopes to emerge victorious he shouldn’t stay mum.
“The only thing I would address is how utterly ridiculous they (the allegations) are,” Radel said in an interview with the Shreveport Times. “We’re talking about the wildest accusations that you could not write in a Hollywood movie and people would believe. From there, I would move on and just talk about what Boustany is going to do, what he’s done as a representative, the good work that he has put in for the state of Louisiana, what he’s going to do as a senator.’’