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Inside allegations that NOPD 'looted' Cadillacs

The Louisiana state attorney general is investigating, but is there a solid case?

A couple of days before Hurricane Katrina hit, former New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass made an adamant statement that looting would not be tolerated in his city.

"I want to make this perfectly clear that looters will be dealt with very severely and very harshly and they will be punished to the full extent of the law," Compass said before the storm hit, and chaos ensued.

The now-retired superintendent likely never thought that warning might apply to some of his own officers.  But pictures from an NBC camera crew seem to show New Orleans police helping themselves to various items at a Wal-Mart in a flooded district. 

Now, there are additional indications that Compass' department may have crossed the line after the storm hit. According to Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, he's investigating allegations New Orleans police may have looted cars from a Cadillac dealer.  Police say they are investigating, too.  But the city's new acting police superintendent, Warren Riley, says if Cadillacs were taken, it may have been out of necessity. 

"Some officers who did use Cadillacs, and I can tell you that they used them because we had lost over 270 cars.  We had one district that did not have any cars and there were some officers who actually patrolled in Cadillacs, I will tell you that, but it was done with the greatest intent," Riley said.

"Those cars were not stolen.  We recovered I believe 90-something Cadillacs.  We recovered some of those that were stolen.  We warehoused those cars.  We still have those cars.  We have obtained the keys for those cars and they are in a safe place for the owner." 

Captain Marlon Defillo, the New Orleans Police Department's spokesperson explained further on Thursday's 'Abrams Report."

"We caught individuals breaking into the Sewell Cadillac dealership," Defillo said. "They were taking the cars.  Two Cadillacs -- they reported 250 cars that were taken.  We recovered nearly 100 of their cars.  We recovered 100 of their cars.  Thirty of those cars were used for patrolling because the officers lost their cars in the flood."

What was missing from the Sewell Cadillac Chevrolet dealership?  Well apparently more than 200 vehicles, including Cadillacs, and "handful of Corvettes." 

"They took anything that was drivable.  They even hot-wired a tractor we use to move cars around, a thing that can't go any faster than 12 miles per hour," said Doug Stead, the dealership president.

Fletcher Mackel, a correspondent with NBC's New Orleans affiliate WDSU, told MSNBC's Dan Abrams on Thursday's 'Abrams Report'  that he expects that Louisiana Attorney General Foti will "dig deep."

"You know he's a pretty thorough attorney general and he doesn't take things like this lightly, especially not when it's officers doing it," Mackel said. "I know that it was a time of crisis and the police department is going to say that they commandeered those vehicles because they needed them."

In particular, the facts of the case also work against the police department, Mackel notes.

"Well first, it was such poor planning on their part that half of their vehicles are under water.  Even common citizens had enough sense to put their cars on overpasses or in dry parking lots.  Why didn't the police department motor pool have enough common sense to put their vehicles where after the storm they'd be able to use them?," he said.

"Also, some of the facts and the stories don't match up," Mackel added. "At first they said they commandeered those vehicles because they caught someone breaking into the Sewell Cadillac dealership and they stopped a crime in progress and commandeered those vehicles.  Now they are admitting that they actually used them as patrol vehicles, which they denied at first.  So there are some discrepancies in their story, so when all of this Katrina situation ends, we do expect Charles Foti to follow through with this."

Eddie Jordan, Jr. is the New Orleans district attorney, told 'The Abrams Report' that while the state is leading the investigation, his office has assigned an investigator to the case.

To watch Dan Abrams' interviews with Defillo, Mackel and Jordan, click on the "Launch" button above and to the right. Watch the for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.