A former deputy with the Morehouse Parish Sheriff's Office is facing up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to one count of felony theft.
Chris Balsamo entered the plea before 4th District Court Judge Scott Leehy at the Morehouse Parish Courthouse.
Assistant District Attorney Devin Jones told Leehy the charges against Balsamo had been amended through a bill of information filed earlier Tuesday. He was originally charged with unauthorized use of a moveable after it was discovered nearly $18,000 in cash was missing, money seized during two separate drug cases.
Fourth District Attorney Jerry Jones made the decision to seek the felony theft charge against Balsamo.
Leehy issued an arrest warrant for Balsamo in November, following an investigation by Louisiana State Police. He surrendered at the Morehouse Parish Jail on Nov. 30. In the week prior to his arrest, Balsamo repaid $17,884 that was seized but never deposited.
In cases involving cash assets seized during drug investigations, the money is given to the DA's office and deposited pending the outcome of the criminal charges. If during the court proceedings prosecutors can show the money was received through illegal activities, they can petition the courts to have the money forfeited to the DA's office and the agency responsible for the arrest, in this case the Sheriff's Office through the North Louisiana Drug Enforcement Bureau. Balsamo was released after a $2,500 surety bond was posted.
He worked for the MPSO until 2011, when he resigned after an audit discovered $100 missing from a fund used to provide money to make drug buys.
Earlier that year, the 14-year MPSO veteran was named in a civil suit by Shane Montgomery, a Morehouse Parish man arrested on federal civil rights charges in 2009 following an incident at Beekman Junior High. Balsamo and former deputy Jamie Wallis were investigators with the MPSO assigned to a case after a raccoon was discovered hanging from the flagpole at the school. Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division determined the incident was intended to scare black students who had recently been bussed to the campus. When the action was deemed to be a hate crime, the DOJ assumed the lead role in the case. Montgomery was indicted in September 2010 by a federal grand jury on four counts, including conspiring to commit a hate crime. A year later, the indictment against Montgomery was dismissed, and Wallis' sons and a third man were charged in connection with the case. Montgomery later filed a civil suit in federal court against the former deputy. The case was settled earlier this year. Charles Kincade, the attorney representing Montgomery, said he could not disclose the terms of the settlement.
Balsamo will return to Leehy's courtroom on March 20 following a pre-sentence investigation. The Office of Probation and Parole and Balsamo's attorney – his sister in law Katie Balsamo – will compile information to be submitted to Leehy in making his determination of what sentence he will impose. Ten years and a $3,000 fine is the maximum exposure for a felony theft conviction.
"Since you are a first-time offender, you could be eligible for probation, but I can't promise you anything" Leehy said during Tuesday's hearing.