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Troy Hebert is nothing if not:

  1. inconsistent
  2. obfuscating
  3. controversial
  4. all the above

Hebert, Bobby Jindal’s brilliant (sarcasm, folks, sarcasm!) choice to succeed former Director of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter after Team Jindal set Painter up on bogus criminal charges, has stumbled into one administrative fiasco after another.

In fact, the manner in which Hebert has run his office might even be considered a microcosm of the Jindal administration, so frighteningly reminiscent is it to the way he seems to emulate his boss.

Just as Jindal attempted (unsuccessfully) to flex his muscles (figuratively, of course; it be absurd to suggest otherwise) after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands from former Chief of Staff Steve Waguespack that a permit be issued to Budweiser to erect a tent at major Jindal campaign donor Tom Benson’s Champion’s even though Budweiser had not met the legal permit requirements, so has Hebert attempted to destroy the careers of agents serving under him for reasons that consistently failed to rise above the level of political pettiness.

Jindal, who accused Painter of abusing his office, apparently overlooked the fact that Hebert, while serving in the Louisiana Legislature, nevertheless saw nothing wrong with working under a state contract for debris cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.

Not only was Painter acquitted in his federal criminal trial, but he then sued his accuser in civil court—and won.

Likewise, Hebert has been sued by former agents for racial discrimination and has been forced to settle at least one such claim. Other complaints are pending as this is being written. Part of the basis for those complaints was Hebert’s confiding in Tingle that he was “going to f**k with” two black agents and that he intended to break up the “black trio” in north Louisiana—in reference to agents Charles Gilmore, Daimian McDowell and Bennie Walters.

And in the case of Brette Tingle, Hebert went to the extreme of attempting to get three different agencies to say there was a criminal payroll fraud case against Tingle—and in each case he failed to get his needed approval. Tingle’s sin? He was listed as a witness for the three black agents who have lodged EEOC complaints against Hebert. That left Hebert with only one logical course of action (logical in Hebert’s mind, that is). He fired Tingle while Tingle was recuperating from a heart attack.

ATC employees Terri Cook and Sean Magee tracked GPS locations of agents and emailed agents and their supervisors on a daily basis so that any issues, discrepancies or inconsistencies raised by the GPS reports could be addressed in a timely manner.

Yet, despite Hebert’s claims that Tingle was not working when he said he was or that he made an unauthorized trip into Mississippi, the issues were never raised by Cook or Magee, according to Tingle’s attorney J. Arthur Smith.

In fact, Smith pointed out that Tingle traveled to Kiln, MS. On May 2, 2012—at Hebert’s express approval—“to obtain surplus gun cleaning kits from his (Tingle’s) Coast Guard unit which were then issued to agents in your (Hebert’s) presence at a meeting at the Baton Rouge ATC headquarters with all enforcement agents as well as business division employees present.”

Smith also said that Tingle “was assigned FDA compliance checks (for tobacco sales to minors) while out on sick leave.” Upon his return to work, Mr. Tingle informed (Hebert) that he could not complete the assigned compliance checks because of other collateral duties which Hebert had assigned him. “These collateral duties included meeting with Trendsic Corp. and newly hired IT employee Keith McCoy to discuss several ideas that Mr. Tingle brought to you and that you wanted implemented before Mr. Tingle left on military leave.

“In this conversation,” Smith continued in his March 10 letter to Hebert, “you instructed Mr. Tingle to ‘get someone else to do those checks.’ Mr. Tingle also served a hearing officer and Internal Affairs Investigator for the ATC. These collateral duties, as well as your special assignments to him, were not part of Mr. Tingle’s regular job duties. You never at any time excused Mr. Tingle from performing these additional responsibilities,” he said.

Moreover, Smith noted, Tingle, Hebert initiated reprisals against Tingle because of statements provided by Tingle in a federal EEOC racial discrimination action filed against the ATC and Hebert even though Tingle “received the highest marks on his annual performance evaluation of all ATC enforcement agents. You signed this evaluation in July 2012,” Smith said.

That same month Hebert contacted Tingle, who was on vacation, by telephone in July of 2012, Smith said, to inquire into specifics concerning programs and initiatives that were part of an ATC pilot program for the New Orleans area initiated by Tingle. Upon learning of Tingle’s participation as a witness in the discrimination matter, however, Hebert claimed on Oct. 4, 2012, that Tingle had committed payroll fraud and further told OIG investigators that no such pilot program existed, according to Smith’s letter to Hebert.

The pilot program, Tingle said, involved programs not being done in other parts of the state. For example, a plan promoted by the AARP to improve blighted areas. ATC, he said, worked with AARP to provide alternative business plans to bar owners who have had their licenses suspended or revoked.

Hebert and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a joint press conference in July of 2012 to announce the program that Tingle initiated. http://www.nola.gov/mayor/press-releases/2012/20120717-mayor-landrieu-and-atc-commissioner-troy/

It was during this press conference that Hebert called a vacationing Tingle for information on the pilot program.

Tingle said Hebert has never followed through on any of the facets of the program.

In mid-January of 2013, Hebert launched an investigation into Tingle’s wife, Traci Tingle, who had recently retired from ATC, claiming that she had falsified state documents and that she had released personnel records to someone outside ATC.

The nature of the personnel records Hebert accused Traci Tingle of releasing was not made clear because Hebert never explained what they were. The state documents referred to, however, were inventory reports in which Traci Tingle had affirmed that the ATC had office equipment in an office in Vidalia, across the Mississippi River from Natchez. Hebert claimed “there was no Vidalia office,” Smith said, but when an ATC employee contacted the Vidalia Police Department about the matter, the Vidalia Police Department confirmed there was an ATC office in that town and that the office still contained ATC equipment.

It was unclear why Hebert would assert that ATC had no office in Vidalia unless the claim was made as a means of attempting to incriminate Traci Tingle.

What is clear, however, that Hebert is molding the agency into his personal fiefdom. He claims he has never fired a black agent but the evidence says otherwise. He also doesn’t say much about intimidating blacks—or transferring one from Shreveport to New Orleans without so much as day’s notice—to the point that they leave of their own accord.

The thing to keep uppermost in mind is that he is Jindal’s hand-picket director, specifically plucked from the legislature to succeed the man whom Jindal railroaded out of office with bogus criminal charges that were subsequently laughed out of court—all because that man, Murphy Painter, insisted that applicants (even those connected to big campaign donors like Tom Benson) conform to the rules when submitting applications for permits.

LouisianaVoice saw a railroad job then and we called it just that—when no other members of the media would come to the defense of Painter. We’re again seeing a railroad job and again, we’re calling it just that.

Jindal, of course, does not preside over the ATC Office but his policies, like a certain substance, flow downhill.

And right now, they’re stinking up the ATC Office.

My wife received an invitation in the mail Monday (March 23).

It was an invitation to a David Vitter Town Hall Meeting next Monday (March 30) in the East Baton Rouge Parish Council chambers in Baton Rouge at 9:30 a.m.

Needless to say, we are more than a little curious as to why she would get such an invitation from him inasmuch as both she and I are former Republicans now enrolled in RR (Recovering Republicans) and participating in the 12-Step Program.

To be fair, under her name in the address were the words “or current resident,” the implication being that whoever dwells in our house is invited.

Regardless, I’m not entirely certain I want my wife or any of my three daughters in the same room with this man—and not just because of the obvious—the 2007 revelations of Vitter’s association with the former (now deceased) D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey prior to his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate (while he was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives).

Neither is it a claim by former New Orleans Madam Jeanette Maier that Vitter had been a client of hers in the late 1990s.

Nope. It’s the 1993 case of Mary Mercedes Hernandez that sounds alarms and raises red flags for me.

Who is Mary Mercedes Hernandez, you ask?

Fair question. She is a conservative Republican whom Vitter defeated in the race for the District 81seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1991.

In April of 1993, Vitter was one of 16 New Orleans-area House members who voted not to table House Bill 1013 which would have made it illegal for employers or insurers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. There was some feeling that he voted not to kill the bill so that it could be debated on the House floor—and defeated on its merits.

Later that same year, on Sept. 21, Hernandez attended a “town hall meeting” held by Vitter at the American Legion Hall in Metairie. She, along with other constituents, had been invited to attend the meeting by Vitter (we’re seeing a trend here) to “discuss state issues,” she said in a lawsuit she filed against Vitter for physically attacking her at the meeting.

Documents obtained Monday by LouisianaVoice show that Vitter counter-sued Hernandez for harassment, naming prominent state Republican officials as her co-conspirators but that in the end, a judgement was signed in favor of Hernandez and Vitter paid Hernandez a small amount of money to settle her lawsuit in March of 1998, the year before he won a 1999 special election to succeed U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston who resigned following disclosures of his own extra-marital affair. VITTER 1993 ASSAULT CASE

The amount of the final settlement—a mere $50—isn’t nearly as important as what the few pages reveal about Vitter and how he can go on the attack when challenged.

For example, among the documents obtained by LouisianaVoice was a letter written by Vitter two years after the suit was filed, and while it was still moving through the legal system, to Livingston.

The letter, dated April 12, 1995, read:

  • “Thank you very much for your recent letter inviting me to help support the East Jefferson Parish Republic PAC with a significant contribution. I have been an active participant in and supporter of the PAC in the past, and would love to continue that support. However, one matter prevents me from doing so at this time.
  • “Several months ago, a Ms. Mercedes Hernandez slapped me with an utterly frivolous lawsuit which continues to languish in the courts. This is a continuation of a personal vendetta against me on the part of not only Ms. Hernandez, but other persons active in the PAC, specifically including John Treen and Vincent Bruno. Both Messrs. Treen and Bruno were instrumental in encouraging this harassing action. In light of this and in light of these persons’ continued active involvement in the PAC, I will have nothing to do with the PAC’s fundraising efforts.
  • “I can easily tolerate sincere disagreements with people. I can even tolerate serious disagreements which lead to litigation. But I will have nothing to do with people who pervert the judicial system to harass me, carry out a personal vendetta, and directly harm not only me but my wife and child as well.”

John Treen, the older brother of the late Gov. Dave Treen, lost a 1989 special election to the Louisiana House of Representatives to Ku Klux Klansman David Duke and Dave Treen lost to Vitter in that 1999 election to succeed Livingston by a scant 1,812 votes. Bruno was a member of the Republican Party’s State Central Committee and worked in the 1999 Dave Treen congressional campaign.

So, it’s easy to see that bitter feelings were running deep when Hernandez asked Vitter during a question and answer session to explain the intent of House Bill 1013, the so-called “Gay Rights Bill,” had failed by a 71-24 vote in April of that year—with Vitter voting against passage. It might even reasonably be called ambush journalism—but sometimes that’s the only way to get an answer from some of our elected officials (see Bobby Jindal).

In her petition, she said Vitter “became agitated and enraged,” left the podium and advanced toward her in a “threatening manner, pushing aside chairs where were in his path,” and wrenched a portable tape recorder from her grasp, causing injuries to her right hand.

In the classic defense of “My dog doesn’t bite,” “I keep my dog in my yard,” “I don’t own a dog,” Vitter denied that (a) the incident occurred, (b) he had no intent to cause “physical contact or the apprehension of physical contact,” (c) “any contact was incidental,” (d) that Hernandez “sustained no injuries as a result of the alleged events in question,” and (e) Hernandez should be held in comparative negligence and assumption of risk…in mitigation or in reduction of any damages recoverable by the plaintiff…”

And then he filed a reconventional demand, or countersuit, claiming that Hernandez had gained the floor at the “town hall meeting” to “spread false, malicious and damaging information about Mr. Vitter, particularly concerning his voting record with regard to gay rights.”

Hernandez, in her answer to Vitter’s reconventional demand, described herself as a conservative Republican and active as a member of the Jefferson Parish Republican Party. She said she wanted him to explain the “Gay Rights Bill” and his position on the bill because she “had heard that he was a co-author of the bill” by former Rep. Troy Carter (D-Algiers).

(An attempt by LouisianaVoice to determine the names of any co-sponsors of the bill was unsuccessful because the Legislature’s web page which tracks bills in current and past sessions goes back only to 1997.)

She said “after being assaulted and battered” by Vitter “in front of scores of people,” she left the meeting and went to a nearby restaurant where she met a friend, Peggy Childers, who had been seated next to her at the meeting and who had witnessed the encounter.

It was Childers, she said, who suggested that she contact John Treen, “a friend and very prominent and respected member of the Republican Party, for advice. The following day, Sept. 22, she met with John Treen, Ms. Childers, Bruno (then Vice-Chairman of the Jefferson Parish Republican Party), and several others.

The judgment against Vitter was for a pittance ($50, plus judicial interest and costs is certainly that in any legal proceeding), but it did vindicate Hernandez and the entire matter illustrates the mental makeup of the man who wants to be our next governor.

(An earlier post of this story incorrectly said Vitter voted to kill the bill.)

Bloomberg Business has announced that EuroChem has “shelved” its decision to build a $1.5 billion fertilizer plant in Iberville Parish because of “changes on the financial markets, namely affected access to credit resources.”

The cancellation immediately throws into doubt the $6 million performance-based grant to offset the costs of site infrastructure improvements announced at the time. In addition, EuroChem was to have received the services of LED FastStart®. The company also was expected to utilize Louisiana’s Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs, Jindal said in making the announcement on July 10, 2013.

All that would appear to now be off the table with the state holding a favorable re-purchase option—except with the state facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, there apparently is no money to exercise that option.

“The decision on the project is delayed due to changes on the financial markets, namely affected access to credit resources,” Chief Financial Officer Andrey Ilyin said in Moscow.

Both Europe and the U.S. sanctioned Russia last year over the Ukraine conflict which stymied Russia’s biggest lenders from borrowing in the U.S. and European Union, which in turn plunged the ruble 46 percent against the dollar.

The $12 million real estate deal between the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED) and a Russian oligarch on 2,150 acres surrounding a Louisiana National Guard facility in Iberville Parish has been suspect from its beginnings two years ago because of the triple whammy of a curious buy-back clause contained in the agreement between the state and EuroChem Louisiana LLC, an option for EuroChem to purchase a second tract in St. John the Baptist Parish, and talk about environmental emission credits that were supposedly promised to Eurochem but then appear to have evaporated.

The transaction was part of a Senate bill that included what appeared to be a sweetheart deal between the state and Vantage Health Plan whereby Vantage was allowed to purchase the former Virginia Hotel in Monroe for $881,000 without having to bother with a pesky public auction and sealed bids.

That transaction was made possible (even though there was another party interested in purchasing the building that had been serving as the State Office Building in Monroe) by Senate Bill 216 (SB 216) by Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi).

SB 216 (which became Act 127 upon the signature of Gov. Bobby Jindal) contained both transactions with the EuroChem deal tacked onto the bottom of the Virginia Hotel sale as an obscure “Section 3” which called for the sale of 2,150 acres of land within the town of St. Gabriel in Iberville Parish to a then unidentified “business entity that enters into a cooperative agreement” with the Department of Economic Development.

Not only was the prospective buyer not named in the bill (contrary to the other part of the bill that clearly identified Vantage Health and the purchase price of the Virginia Hotel), but the bill also contained no mention of a purchase price for the Iberville property.

The bill passed the House by a 96-1 vote and by a 31-1 vote in the Senate. Voting against the bill in the House was Rep. Marcus Hunter (D-Monroe) while the lone dissenting vote in the Senate was cast by Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge). Seven senators and eight House members were absent or did not vote.

The Senate vote was on April 24, 2013, and the House approval followed on May 22. Jindal signed the bill on June 5 and the cooperative endeavor agreement was signed on June 14 by LED Deputy Secretary Steven Grissom—even though the bill did not become law until Aug. 1, 2013.

The name of the Eurochem representative on the state documents obtained from LED was Ivan Vassilev Boasher, identified only as “Manager.”

EuroChem, founded in 2001, is a Russian company owned jointly by oligarch Andrey Melnichenko (92.2 percent of shares) and CEO Dmitry Strezhnev, who owns the remaining 7.8 percent. It was Strezhnev, and not Melnichenko, who joined with Jindal in announcing plans for the $1.5 billion facility.

At the time the deal was announced, Melnichenko, one of the world’s richest men, said the planned facility would employee 200 and produce 1300 positions in related industries. Ilyin said the project may still be developed, possibly even this year.

“EuroChem is evaluating two final sites for its Louisiana plant,” Jindal said in his 2013 announcement. The Iberville Parish property had been on the market for more than two years through the Office of State Lands, and EuroChem deposited $12 million in an escrow account to buy the property. At the same time, EuroChem also secured an option to purchase a 900-acre, privately-owned tract in St. John the Baptist Parish. “Both Mississippi River sites are being evaluated for construction and logistics suitability, and the company will make a final site decision within the next year,” Jindal said. http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4141&printer=1

The option on the St. John property, identified by sources as the Goldmine Plantation in the Mississippi River’s east bank near the town of Edgard, which was for 330 days, has expired and was not renewed. No documents requesting permits have been filed with St. John or Iberville Parish, the town of St. Gabriel or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The 2,150 acre parcel in Iberville Parish is isolated on three sides by the Mississippi River and surrounds the Carville Historic District that houses the National Hansen’s Disease Museum, the Gillis W. Long Military Center (Louisiana National Guard facility), and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Carville Job Corps Center. There are no exiting shipping terminals on the tract and the property is prone to flooding during times of high water.

One Iberville Parish official said late last year that he did not believe the project was going to move forward because of relations between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine crisis and because of current restrictions in Iberville on air emissions from existing plants which limits the amount of air emission credits available.

And it is those air emission, or carbon, credits that appeared to be the key in the entire deal.

One person close to the St. John transaction said that the purchase of the Iberville property “had to do with environmental credit.”

The credits, he said, were available from another company at the time they purchased the Iberville tract but are now gone. He refused to identify the company from whom credits were supposed to be available nor did he say what happened to those credits. “One was the deal (for construction) and one was about emission credits,” he said. “They purchased the Iberville land and continued to do business with us like it never happened.”

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality explained that there are basically two geographic categories when considering air quality standards for permitting: attainment or nonattainment. When an area is considered to be in the nonattainment area, DEQ works with businesses to lower emissions to meet standards through “emissions credits.”

These “credits,” which are provided by the state, are gained by companies that make improvements to their current physical plants in order to reduce oxide and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. The credits can be bought and sold much like a commodity on the open market, he explained.

The credits also have to be acquired from companies within that particular designated geographic area that is considered in the nonattainment area.

Because Iberville Parish is within a nonattainment area, Eurochem would have to acquire the credits if planning to make an application for construction and would be required to demonstrate it had sufficient oxide and VOC credits to meet the application approval.

There is a flourishing international black market for emissions credits that has come under scrutiny by several investigative agencies, including Interpol, which calls carbon trading the “world’s fasting growing commodities market.”

http://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-media/News/2013/PR090/

Larry Lohmann, writing for New Scientist, says that the larger carbon markets are “poised on the edge of breakdown.” https://www.academia.edu/3152549/Regulation_as_Corruption_in_the_Carbon_Offset_Markets

Deloitte Forensic, Australia, calls carbon credit fraud “the white collar crime of the future.”

Still another unanswered question concerns that buy-back clause in the cooperative endeavor agreement between Eurochem and LED. The side of the ledger favoring EuroChem is the $6 million grant the state gave EuroChem, along with all the other tax incentives it supposed to have received but apparently now will not. But on Louisiana’s side of that same ledger is the clause that says if the fertilizer plant is not built, the state has the option of buying the land back at a reduced price or approving the buyer for re-sale.

So, what we have is a Russian entity purchasing 2,150 acres of land in Iberville Parish from the state for $12 million (and in the process, getting that $6 million grant and a laundry list of tax incentives) for the construction of a fertilizer plant that apparently will not be built there at all because the same Russian firm also signed an option on 900 acres in St. John the Baptist Parish but that option has now expired with no progress made toward construction at either site.

And now the entire deal appears to have been scrubbed.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers and big oil won quiet but major victories in the U.S. House last week and five of Louisiana’s six-man congressional delegation were complicit in efforts to thwart efforts to protect the environment.

Republican Reps. Steve Scalise, Charles Boustany, John Fleming, Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves voted in lock step on three separate measures dealing with environmental issues the outcomes of which were certain to please ALEC and corporate interests opposed to issues important to environmentalists. Rep. Cedrick Richmond was the lone holdout on each of the bills.

The five Republicans voted in favor of two House resolutions detrimental to environmental proponents and against two bills opposed by those same interests.

The two resolutions supported by Scalise, Boustany, Fleming, Abraham and Graves included:

  • A proposal to restructure the Environmental Protection Agency’s 52-member Science Advisory Board. Included in that restructuring was a proposal to reduce academic representation on the board while expanding corporate membership. The vote to give corporations a stronger voice in denying climate change was 236-181 in favor of HR 1029 which now goes to the Senate.
  • Approval of HR 1030 by a 241-175 vote to kill certain environmental rules unless all data from supporting studies is made public so that the study could be independently replicated—including confidential health information about participants.

The five Republicans joined with the majority to defeat one other provision contained in the two House resolutions cited above as they defied all logic in voting down by 179-237 an amendment to HR 1029 by Democrats that would have denied seats on the EPA Science Advisory Board to scientists whose research is funded by firms convicted of major environmental crimes.

It was recently revealed that one scientist, Dr. Willie Soon, who has denied evidence of climate change, received $1.25 million to underwrite his research denying climate change from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. Koch alone has funneled some $73 million to groups denying climate change.

It would certainly appear that big oil has invested heavily in the futures of a certain five Republican congressmen from Louisiana and that those investments are paying huge dividends.

By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

In 2001, I attempted to sell my home via the traditional means.  My listing was with ReMax, but I wasn’t happy with the snail’s pace everything seemed to move at.  It was not the fault of my agent but rather a simple reflection of the reality of traditional real estate listings in that they do not create any urgency to buy.

About five weeks into my listing, I noticed an ad in the real estate section of the paper for an upcoming real estate auction.  The ad got my attention, so I called the owner of the real estate auction company.  Thereafter, I attended four of his auctions before deciding that was the route I wanted to go.  My auctioneer, at that time, had a 20-year stellar record of successful auctions (it’s now nearly 35 years).  I was impressed by his professionalism and how the auction method could generate a firm, unconditional offer accompanied by a 10% liquidated damages deposit on a definite date and time that was within only about 30 days of executing the auction listing.  I utilized his services (even keeping my ReMax agent in the mix), and I was pleased with the results.  Consequently, within days of us closing, I called him and asked if I could join his company.  He blew me off in saying, “Sure, but you have to get your real estate license first.”  He later said he thought that was the last he’d ever hear from me, but I surprised him when I called only three weeks later indicating I’d procured the real estate license and asking what I needed to do next.

Over the next two years, he taught me everything one needs to know to be a successful real estate auctioneer.  His honesty, his integrity, and his ethics are beyond reproach, and they’re reflected in his auction results.  He instilled such confidence in me that I even formed my own auction company and began auctioning real estate properties myself.  I enjoyed helping solve people’s problems more than anything I’ve done in my entire professional career.

As many Louisiana Voice readers are aware, Gov. Jindal’s office contacted me within months of his taking office about serving on the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB).  I would later learn I was contacted only because other applicants had felony convictions or other problems and were ineligible to serve.  I figured I had zero chance of being selected because I never contributed a dime to Jindal’s campaign and, except for 2003 (the year he lost), I didn’t even vote for him.  Nevertheless, I completed the application and figured that would be the end of it.  To my bewilderment, his office called me about six weeks later congratulating me on being selected to serve on the board.  I should have known something was wrong right then because it just didn’t make sense to be selected to serve on a board with no political allegiance to the governor.  Nevertheless, I naively felt honored to have been selected and anxiously looked forward to improving the auction experience for Louisiana consumers.

What I didn’t know was that I would encounter rampant racism on the board and that corruption was so prevalent that I had trouble believing any board could conduct itself in such an anti-consumer, auctioneer-biased manner.  I’ve written several articles already on this blog regarding what I encountered in my early days on the board, so I won’t repeat them here.

Even with all I encountered, however, I never dreamed the LALB could stoop as low as it has in the last six months.  Readers may recall the post entailing 84-year-old widow LALB complainant Betty Jo Story.  That case stands out as the most egregious abuse of any auction victim I’ve seen, yet LALB members found the auctioneer guilty of nothing and merely advised him to “go out in the hallway and work this out.”  Instead, he proceeded straight past Ms. Story and headed back to his home in DeRidder.  Thereafter, he refused to try and make things right with her, so she sued him in 36th JDC in DeRidder.  On October 29, 2014, serving in a pro-se capacity (and doing so quite well I might add), she obtained a judgment of $4,102.29, which the auctioneer paid within a week.

Even more disconcerting, however, was the preferential treatment granted to Brant Thomson, son of State Sen. Francis Thompson.  In that case, the LALB closed its investigation (finding no auctioneer wrongdoing), only to reopen it and find the auctioneer guilty and even file Thompson’s bond claim for him after he drafted a scathing letter to the LALB and had the presence of mind to copy to Ms. Holly Robinson, Gov. Jindal’s then-head of Boards and Commissions.  That incident is covered in this post.

Another complainant, Ms. Judy Fasola, claimed she was victimized by auctioneer Ken Buhler, who happens to have Marvin Henderson as his lead cheerleader with the LALB.  Henderson, a substantial contributor to Jindal campaigns, has historically exerted control over the board which, for whatever reason, is intimidated by him and his self-proclaimed (and no doubt accurately stated) ability to have members removed from the board with a mere phone call to the governor.  The LALB is afraid to assist any person, and that most certainly includes Fasola, in an auction complaint when such assistance may alienate Henderson (as pursuing a bond claim entailing Buhler or any affiliate of his would).

LALB cited a number of reasons for refusing to file a bond claim for Fasola at its November 5, 2014 meeting.  Thereafter, on January 13, 2015, Fasola refuted the LALB members’ November statements as being factually incorrect (a claim substantiated by prior videos).  That fact notwithstanding, at its March 10, 2015 meeting, the LALB, via a prepared statement drafted by legal counsel Larry S. Bankston, but read by his associate, Jenna Linn, stated that the board has “total discretion” regarding whom it wishes to file bond claims for and whom it wishes to decline to do so.  That is not a joke. That’s what Linn read from Bankston’s letter.

Given this public statement, perhaps it would be appropriate that consumers refrain from using the services of auctioneers.  The rationale is simple.  If a primary source of consumer protection is the auctioneer bond, and the LALB is now publicly asserting that it can cherry pick whom it will file bond claims for, that leaves consumers at the whim of political connections affiliated with the board.  When combined with the board’s demonstrated history of filing a claim for a politically connected alleged victim like Brant Thompson but declining to do so when it may alienate political powerhouse auctioneer Henderson, why should any consumer have faith and confidence in an auctioneer?  It’s time to face reality.  Though there are exceptions, the auction industry is corrupt and the board designed to protect consumers is even more corrupt.

I conclude by providing a webpage of Fasola’s three-meeting ordeal, complete with links for documents and video coverage.  Additionally, I provide this webpage of video highlights of the March 10, 2015 LALB meeting.  Linn rudely cut off my public comment when I referenced “FBI investigations,” so I provide an off-site assessment of why she likely recoiled when I uttered those words.

I have no idea if the next governor will do anything to clean up the mass of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that exists on the LALB.  If he doesn’t, I would recommend a continued boycott of auctioneer services.  To do otherwise would be an injustice to the many clients and bidders I fought so hard to ensure access to experienced honest, open, and transparent auctions.

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