Ouachita Parish Police Juror Scotty Robinson and a Ruston attorney say 5th District congressional candidate Luke Letlow enticed the police juror with a job offer to stay out of the congressional race.
Robinson, a Republican from West Monroe, and Letlow, a Republican from Start who has served as Congressman Ralph Abraham’s chief of staff for nearly six years, are among nine candidates in the race to succeed Abraham, who chose not to seek re-election.
Abraham term-limited himself to no more than three terms, or six years, in the U.S. House of Representatives when he first sought the congressional seat in 2014.
Robinson and Letlow were known to be interested in or actively campaigning for the congressional seat prior to Abraham’s decision to honor his self-imposed term limit.
In a video published Tuesday to his Facebook page, “Scotty Robinson for Congress,” Robinson claimed Letlow or his campaign had made three offers to “buy him out” of the race through other people.
According to Robinson, the first offer happened during the governor’s race last fall when Abraham mounted an unsuccessful bid to unseat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Abraham ran third in the primary election behind Baton Rouge Republican Eddie Rispone and Edwards, who defeated Rispone in the November run-off.
“Luke Letlow made me an offer through a mutual friend during the governor’s race last year that if I would not run for Congress, Ralph Abraham would have a job waiting on me when he got elected as governor,” Robinson said. “Obviously, I declined that offer and got into this race (congressional) last year.”
Since he entered the race, Robinson said several people have told him they could not support his candidacy because Letlow had “all the money.”
“For the life of me, I can’t figure out what money really has to do with this,” Robinson said.
As of July, three candidates in the 5th District race have raised more than $100,000. Letlow raised some $572,000; Robinson raised some $140,000; and state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, raised some $120,000, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data.
Grambling State University Chief Operating Officer Martin Lemelle Jr., a Democrat, also is a candidate in the race.
In response to The Ouachita Citizen's request for comment, Letlow shared a comment by Scott Franklin, chairman of Letlow's campaign. Franklin denied Robinson's claims and pointed to Letlow's campaign fundraising haul.
“Our campaign holds ourselves to the highest standard and would never condone the details of his statement,” stated Franklin. “However, I do feel sorry for Mr. Robinson, as he has sunk a great deal of personal money into what appears to be a wildly unsuccessful bid for congress. As the proud chairman of the Letlow campaign, I’ll never apologize for running what has been the most successful fundraising campaign in district history.”
Later on Tuesday, the “mutual friend” referred to in Robinson’s video confirmed the police juror’s account about Letlow’s offer. Heath Hattaway, a Ruston attorney and political consultant, told The Ouachita Citizen that Letlow asked him to relay an offer to Robinson to stay out of the race.
“Luke called me in June 2019 and asked me if Scotty would get out of the race in exchange for the local government liaison (position) at the governor’s office,” Hattaway said. “I called him (Robinson) and told him, ‘Luke just called me, and this is what he told me.”
“Obviously, he didn’t take that offer,” added Hattaway, with a laugh.
Hattaway noted that Letlow was serving on Abraham’s congressional staff in June 2019.
“I just thought it was counting chickens before they hatched,” said Hattaway, referring to Abraham’s gubernatorial campaign.
Referring to Robinson, Letlow, Lemelle and his own work supporting Abraham’s congressional campaign in 2014, Hattaway said, “Look, I know all these guys.”
“I obviously have a preference,” said Hattaway, before clarifying that he supported Robinson’s candidacy. “But that doesn’t mean that Luke didn’t do that.”
“That 100 percent happened,” Hattaway added, concerning the offer to Robinson.
Robinson claimed he received another offer from an unidentified individual to exit the congressional race in exchange for money and other enticements last week.
“Fast forward to this last week, and Luke Letlow — one of his supporters called me (with) a pocketful of money, wanting to know how much would it take to get me out of this race,” Robinson said. “This is a respected guy who sent me a message and then called me. He wants to to buy me out of this race, pay off my campaign debt and even mentioned there could be a job waiting on me if I dropped out.”
When asked to identify the Letlow campaign supporter who supposedly made the second offer, Robinson declined.
“The other I’m not naming,” he told The Ouachita Citizen.
In his Facebook video, Robinson claimed Letlow’s campaign made a third inquiry, compelling him to publish his allegations in a video.
“Fast forward to two days ago, I get a message from someone who actually supports me and says, ‘Hey Scotty, I know I don’t know you that well but someone from Luke Letlow’s campaign just contacted me and wanted me to try to get you out of the race, wanted to know how much it would cost, what’s it going to take to buy you out of this thing.’”
“That disgusts me,” Robinson added. “This kind of insider, D.C. swamp stuff is the reason I’m running in the first place.”
Other people qualifying as candidates in the 5th Congressional District included Sandra “Candy” Christophe, a Democrat from Alexandria; Allen Guillory Sr., a Republican from Opelousas; Matt Hasty, a Republican from Pineville; Jesse Lagarde, a Democrat from Amite; and Phillip Snowden, a Democrat from Monroe.
The 5th District includes 24 parishes throughout northeast, central and eastern Louisiana including portions of the Florida Parishes. The 5th District is the largest congressional district in the state geographically.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this news report incorrectly identified a statement by Scott Franklin, chairman of Letlow's campaign, as issued by Letlow himself. The Ouachita Citizen regrets the error.