Political rainmaker Fouad Zeton pleads guilty to art theft fraud; implicates NOPD officer


Restaurateur Fouad Zeton, the former owner of a Lower Garden District mansion that played host to a slew of New Orleans political fundraising events, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday afternoon to a single wire fraud charge, admitting his role in an insurance-fraud scheme and implicating a New Orleans police officer in the process.

Zeton, clad in a dark suit, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown, who will sentence him Aug. 17. He faces a maximum of five years in prison.

In court documents, Zeton admitted he filed bogus insurance claims on a number of paintings he reported stolen from his Lakeview home. In doing so, prosecutors allege, he had help from a New Orleans police officer who pretended not to know Zeton but did. That officer, according to a summary of the case signed by Zeton, filed a false police report in 2019 that backed Zeton’s claim that the allegedly stolen paintings had a combined value of $128,500.

In fact, the paintings had not been stolen and were worth substantially less than that, prosecutors say.

The officer is not named in the court documents, but The Times-Picayune has confirmed that he is Christian Claus, a former lawyer from Nevada. Claus has been assigned to desk duty pending a federal investigation, according to the NOPD. He has not been charged.

The indictment said that Claus used “his knowledge of insurance claim processing, and his connections to an art appraiser, to facilitate a false claim.” Claus was to receive a kickback from the proceeds resulting from the false insurance claim, the indictment adds.

A summary of the case filed into the record Wednesday, signed by Zeton, indicates that the scheme was initially proposed by Claus.

Prosecutors also allege that Zeton had also promised to use his influence with “a high-ranking NOPD official” to get Claus better posts and promotions. It’s unclear who that official is, or whether Zeton ever attempted to help Claus.

Zeton has close connections to a number of local politicians, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell and several local judges. As a result, his indictment in December — more than a year after federal agents raided the Magnolia Mansion, an event space he owned — set off speculation that the case might mushroom into something more substantial.

Zeton himself encouraged the talk. He told a reporter last year that he was collateral damage in prosecutors’ quest to reel in a bigger fish.

“I have no idea who is the big fish, but I’m not the one,” he said, adding: “This has nothing to do with artwork.”

Zeton said last year that the FBI had asked him questions about about his relationships with various political figures. But he also claimed he had little to tell them.

This is a breaking story. Check back for more.

-Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report.

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