A straight-out-of-a-movie subplot to the heated Louisiana governor’s race just got a new, unexpected twist.
On the eve of Saturday’s nonpartisan primary, Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) gubernatorial campaign was dogged by reports that a bumbling private investigator it employed had been arrested. The private investigator, Robert J. Frenzel, fled a coffee shop where he was allegedly seen recording a powerful sheriff who endorsed one of Vitter’s GOP challengers.
But it turns out there was another gumshoe sitting at the table with Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand (pictured), even if Frenzel may not have realized it at the time.
The Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper reported late Wednesday that Normand was joined by Danny Martiny, a state senator; John Cummings, a lawyer and donor to Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Bel Edwards; and Danny DeNoux, a private investigator.
DeNoux told the newspaper that he had been hired by a businessman he couldn’t name to do opposition research on Vitter. He clarified that the businessman who gave him the assignment was not Cummings. It wasn’t an elected official or the state Democratic Party either, he said.
It wasn’t clear why DeNoux was at the meeting with Normand. But the private eye told The Advocate that he was the person who recently re-located Wendy Ellis, a prostitute who claimed in a 2007 interview with Hustler magazine that Vitter had been one of her customers.
DeNoux said the businessman who hired him to do research on Vitter told him to link the woman up with a local blogger named Jason Berry. Berry ran a series of video interviews with Ellis on his blog, www.theamericanzombie.com, earlier this month, a little more than a week before the primary. In those interviews, Ellis went beyond what she previously told Hustler, saying she and Vitter had a years-long relationship and that he impregnated her. She also said that Vitter demanded she get an abortion, but she decided to have the baby and then give the child up for adoption.
Ellis’ claims were unconfirmed, and few if any news outlets in Louisiana surfaced them prior to Saturday’s election. However, the interviews were circulated on social media and gossiped about to such an extent that Vitter’s Republican gubernatorial rivals referenced the videos at the final gubernatorial debate. Scott Angelle said on the debate stage that he hoped Pelican State voters watched the videos before heading to the polls; Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne echoed that sentiment after the event.
Only after Vitter eked out a second-place finish in the primary did an anchor for local TV station WDSU ask him to address Ellis’ allegations. The senator dismissed the questions as “irresponsible” and repeatedly said Ellis’ story was “false and discredited.”
Vitter faces Edwards, a state representative, in the Nov. 21 runoff election.