Head of New Orleans DEA quietly recalled to Washington amid widening scandal

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has recalled the head of its New Orleans field division amid a turbulent stretch for the agency that included the arrest of a task force member last month and a drug raid in the Lower 9th Ward that resulted in the shooting of a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Adding to the turmoil are allegations of misconduct against a local DEA agent made in court papers this month that have been placed under seal.

Keith Brown, who served as special agent in charge of DEA operations in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama, was quietly transferred to Washington, D.C., where he is working in a leadership role in the agency’s diversion control program, an office that combats prescription drug abuse, authorities confirmed Friday.

A DEA spokeswoman described Brown’s move as lateral and said it occurred earlier this month. DEA brass recently traveled from Washington to New Orleans to discuss the change with local officials.

The spokeswoman, Special Agent Debbie Webber, said Brown’s transfer did not stem from any disciplinary action, but she added that she was not authorized to discuss personnel matters or internal investigations.

“It’s fairly common for our leadership to move around the country, to get relocated at different times, depending on the needs of the agency and to further their own careers,” Webber said.

Veteran DEA agent Susan Nave has assumed the duties of acting special agent in charge, Webber said, while Brown’s permanent replacement, Stephen G. Azzam, will take over in April.

Azzam, who was appointed to the New Orleans post on Feb. 8, most recently was associate special agent in charge of the DEA’s Los Angeles Division.

“He has a long and successful record as a leader in DEA,” Webber said. “Beyond that, we do not comment on personnel matters.”

Brown confirmed the shake-up in a brief telephone interview Friday but deferred further questions to his successor before hanging up.

Many questions remain unanswered, but it emerged Friday that the personnel change followed the previously unreported arrest of Johnny Domingue, a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office narcotics deputy who had worked with a DEA task force. Domingue was booked Jan. 26 in St. Tammany Parish by State Police on counts of conspiracy and distributing a controlled dangerous substance.

“We received information that he was involved in narcotics distribution,” State Police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain said.

Webber refused to say whether Domingue was a DEA task force member and referred all questions about him to the State Police. Domingue’s arrest report wasn’t available Friday, and Cain said authorities could not release any further details because of an ongoing investigation.

The government also is having to respond to a series of allegations against Chad Scott, who worked for the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office for eight years before being hired as a DEA agent. Defense attorney Arthur “Buddy” Lemann last week asked a judge to dismiss drug charges against a client of his, Richard Williams, citing “the outrageous misconduct of Agent Chad Scott” in pursuing the case.

Lemann said Friday that he could not elaborate on those allegations because government lawyers successfully petitioned a judge to seal related court filings.

Local DEA agents also were involved in a drug raid in New Orleans last month in which Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Stephen Arnold was shot five times inside a home on Douglas Street. Arnold, 35, remained hospitalized in “critical but stable” condition Friday, said Col. John Fortunato, a JPSO spokesman.

The task force had a warrant for the arrest of Jarvis Hardy, an admitted crack cocaine dealer who, according to the FBI, had been selling drugs out of his house. Agents used a battering ram to break through the door during the pre-dawn raid.

Hardy told authorities he opened fire on the officers because he believed he was being robbed. Arnold was struck multiple times in the neck and torso.

Ashley Rodrigue of WWL-TV contributed to this report.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon. Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.

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