La. Ag. Commissioner Odom is probed
Crop-duster alleges funds demaned
A crop-duster says he was pressured into giving campaign money to state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom nearly
"I gave a couple of times, but they kept coming back wanting more," Donnie Mack Johnson said prior to his grand jury appearance.
The 54-year-old Johnson, who ran three times against Odom for agriculture commissioner, was one of two people to testify
Marcus Covington, a retired crop-duster, backed up Johnsons story. Covington, who lives 15 miles east of Monroe,
has also talked with state and federal investigators and the state legislative auditor.
Covington, who lives in the Richland Parish town of Start,
appeared voluntarily before the grand jury.
East Baton Rouge and federal authorities are investigating allegations of public bribery and misuse
of state funds by Odom and his agency.
Odom lashed out at Johnson during a press conference after learning Johnson had appeared before the grand jury.
Odom said Johnson threatened his life during a deposition in 1989, broke the jaw of a pesticide inspector who tried to
serve Johnson with a subpoena and sprayed other agriculture department employees with chemicals from his airplane.
"He is a dangerous man, and I hope the District Attorneys Office takes the appropriate precautions for their own well-being,"
Its unusual for East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors to look into such old allegations against Odom, but prosecutors may
be trying to show a pattern of abuse by the agriculture commissioner.
Also, public bribery charges involving an elected official who remains in office are not subject to a particular time limit,
legal experts said.
In the interview, Johnson said a pesticide inspector who worked for Odom pressured him to give $500 to Odoms campaign fund
in the early 1980s and came back for more after getting two checks.
Johnson said he was approached several times in 1981 and 1982. Odom took office in 1980.
"The rice farmers were supposed to pay $1,000 and aerial applicators were supposed to pay $500. I paid him $500 in several
different checks. But then they kept coming back wanting more, and I told them I was not going to pay any more.
"Thats when all hell broke loose," Johnson said.
Johnson said he was put out of business by the state Pesticide Advisory Commission after a hearing on charges of misuse
"My career was destroyed," Johnson said. "And Bob Odom picked the people who judged me."
The commission found Johnsons business guilty of misuse of pesticides, killing birds and other violations. He paid at least
$15,000 in fines.
Johnson said most of the charges were false and politically motivated.
Covington said he paid a $5,500 fine for an insecticide violation in 1985 after
being told by an aide to Odom: "If you think we cant make you pay, ask Donnie Mack. They used him as an example.
"If you dont give Odom contributions, you get fined," Covington said. "And
if you dont pay the fines, they put you out of business."
"I hope the DA can get enough to nail the guy," Johnson said, "but Ive seen this before. I dont have a whole lot of faith
in the FBI or anybody else."
At his afternoon press conference, Odom said Johnson is a violent man.
"He (Johnson) has testified under oath that he planned to kill me and other law-enforcement officials. He then took steps
to carry that out," Odom said. "I dont remember if we reported that to the State Police or not."
Odom said he removed a vanity license plate, "LA1," from his car so he wouldnt be conspicuous driving around town.
"I took it off because I didnt want somebody to be able to identify me and shoot me," the commissioner said.
Johnson said he never intended to hurt Odom.
"If he thinks thats the case, he should present it to the grand jury," Johnson said.
Johnson acknowledged breaking the jaw of an agriculture department inspector with a punch to the face in 1984 when the
man tried to serve him with a subpoena.
"He was standing at my house under my car shed," Johnson said.
"I had warned that boy: Dont come back to my house again," Johnson said.
The crop-duster said he had been served with numerous subpoenas by Odoms employees every few days at the time, and he considered
"A sheriff, constable or marshal has to serve a subpoena. An agriculture department employee cant do it. I was told they
wanted to serve the subpoena just to see the look on my face," Johnson said. "I got a little tired of it."
A federal court deposition dated July 18, 1989, includes quotes from
Johnson in which he states he was under stress at the time.
In a transcript, Johnson is quoted as saying: "I was prepared to die, but I was also prepared to take just as many down
with me as I could."
Odoms attorney, Jim Gelpi, asked how Johnson planned to do that.
"At my hands," Johnson answered. "I wasnt going to hire nobody to do anything. Ill put it like that."
The grand jury is also looking into allegations that Odom took bribes in return for helping friends win a state food storage
contract in the mid-1990s and that state agriculture department employees helped build a home for Odoms son and a new education
building at First Baptist Church
in Zachary. Odom is a member of that church.