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TRAPPING CASE SPAWNS FRESH ATTACK ON TAUZIN

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

By Matthew Brown

West Bank bureau

Democrats are seizing on a previously undisclosed trespassing and illegal trapping citation against Republican Billy Tauzin III to buttress their argument that he is not mature enough to succeed his father in Congress.

Three months before he announced he was running for Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District seat, Tauzin and a friend were cited by state wildlife agents in Terrebonne Parish for trapping 46 nutria without a permit while trespassing on private property, according to state records.

Tauzin dismissed the Feb. 29 incident as "a simple mistake," and his campaign said it resulted in only "a small fine." He said he unknowingly crossed onto private property while trapping with a friend, identified in state records as Anthony Giardina.

But the campaign of Democratic rival Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville said the violations -- coupled with Tauzin's 2002 guilty plea to drunken driving in St. Tammany Parish -- show a "pattern of immaturity and lawlessness."

"Little Billy wasn't being honest when he said he cleaned up his act," said Melancon campaign manager Casey O'Shea. "How can the people of Louisiana trust Billy Tauzin?"

Tauzin, who lives in Thibodaux, is seeking the seat held since 1980 by his father, U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin Jr., R-Chackbay, who is retiring.

His drunken driving conviction was first reported in May, but the trapping violations were not disclosed until the Melancon campaign made them public on Monday.

Melancon's camp alleged the trapping infraction violated the terms of Tauzin's parole from the DWI case. Tauzin's campaign said the probationary period ended in December 2003, two months before the trapping incident.

The maximum fine that could have been levied in the trapping case was $250, said Winton Vidrine, chief of enforcement for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Terrebonne District Attorney Joseph Waitz, whose office had jurisdiction over the case, could not be reached Monday.

Given the havoc that nutria cause on Louisiana's shrinking wetlands, it's debatable whether the case will hurt or help Tauzin's campaign in the final days before Saturday's runoff election. State officials are so concerned about the marsh destruction that they pay a $4-per-pelt bounty on the marsh-eating rodents, but one must have an official permit.

. . . . . . .

Matthew Brown can be reached at mbrown@timespicayune.com  or (504) 826-3784.


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