Fouad Zeton, center, walks into the U.S. District Court on Poydras Street in New Orleans flanked by his lawyers, David Courcelle, right, and Scott Stansbury, left, on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

From Las Vegas to London to New Orleans, the criminal, boxing and showbiz fraternities have always rubbed shoulders, generally in glamorous surroundings.

In New Orleans, long prominent in those fraternities was Fouad Zeton, a Syrian-born light heavyweight who won half of his professional bouts, sparred with heavyweight world champ Evander Holyfield and went on to play a prominent social and political role as the owner of the Magnolia Mansion, the city's favorite venue for political fundraisers.

In Vegas, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other members of the Rat Pack were ringside regulars at big fights, while in London the murderous Kray twins, both boxers themselves, did their best to recreate the ambience of the Sands Hotel by the Thames and courted English stars to disport themselves there.

It worked perfectly for a while. Among his powerful friends, Zeton counted several local judges and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, while patrons of the Magnolia could count on being entertained by such distinguished homegrown musicians as Irvin Mayfield.

Alas, it all came crashing down when the FBI raided the Magnolia and removed several paintings from its walls. After pleading guilty, Zeton now awaits sentencing for trying to bilk insurance companies by claiming the replacement value of works of art that weren't missing.

Meanwhile, Mayfield was released after serving just under half of an 18-month prison sentence for stealing more than $1 million from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation Board when he was its chairman.

To judge from this case, you'd have to conclude that there's something rotten about New Orleans society from top to bottom. None of these scams would have worked otherwise.

Zeton, for instance, could not have gotten away with the fake art theft without the active cooperation of law enforcement. That cooperation was not just active but enthusiastic.

A crooked art expert was also required. Finding one appears to have posed no problem. The feds were already familiar with Michael Schofield, a Las Vegas art appraiser who got 10 months in 2008 for securing a $40,000 loan using a Pablo Picasso sketch as security.

The sketch was no doubt a fine one, but Schofield lied when he said it belonged to him.

Schofield also lied this time around when he provided appraisals for a list of paintings allegedly stolen from Zeton's Lakeview residence, None of the paintings was in fact missing. Furthermore, their purported value of $128,500 was grossly inflated, according to the feds, who have charged him with one count of misprision of a felony. 

But for the piece de resistance of the current scheme, a corrupt cop was indispensable, and New Orleans rose easily to the occasion.

You couldn't wish for a more unprincipled officer of the law than the one who showed up to investigate the thefts reported by Schofield. The cop who took over the case was none other than Christian Claus, a former Nevada lawyer and a big pal of Schofield's on the q.t. Claus's NOPD record is far from unblemished — he has let a suspect escape and lied to superiors — but his efforts on Zeton's behalf rose to a new level of malfeasance. He and Zeton arranged to share the proceeds of the bogus insurance claim, according to court records. To date, Claus has not been charged with a crime. 

Zeton also promised to use his stroke at NOPD on Claus' behalf, according to court records. That deal, if it ever existed, is presumably off now.

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