A failure to properly conduct background checks by the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) resulted in the approval of alcohol licenses to a New Orleans-area man who was arrested on felony charges six times during 2004 and 2005, according to court records and ATC application forms.
Moreover, the number of citations issued by ATC for underage drinking during the Mardi Gras season has plummeted more than 92 percent since 2011, records show.
In an inter-office email obtained by LouisianaVoice on Wednesday, Department of Revenue (LDR) employees were informed that all outgoing emails by LDR employees to any ATC employee must copy Jarrod Coniglio, chief of staff to Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield, and “before any current or former ATC employee is interviewed, hired or offered a position with LDR, the division director must receive approval from Jarrod Coniglio.”
There was no explanation why ATC employees were being singled out for such scrutiny. Apparently the powers that be at LDR are not quite up to speed on the Emancipation Proclamation.
The email also instructed that LDR regional offices “will cease requesting or utilizing any ATC agents on a cash seizures or any other field related activity.”
LDR is the umbrella agency under which ATC serves.
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert defended his actions in an email to LouisianaVoice with the explanation that “disgruntled employees are going to complain” whenever he “kicks employee’s (sic) butts.”
Omar Hamdan was arrested for multiple counts of possession of Schedule II and Schedule IV drugs, for use of a firearm or controlled dangerous substance in the commission of a crime of violence and for bail violation.
Some of the charges against the Harvey resident, including the firearms violation, were dropped after he pled guilty to possession charges in December of 2004.
Despite his legal problems, ATC issued alcohol licenses to four convenience stores owned by Hamdan, records show.
The licenses were actually issued to Hamdan’s wife, Fatmah Hamdan, who checked “No” to the question, “Have you or your spouse ever been convicted of a felony?”
When Scott Wolfe, the individual who sold several of the convenience stores to Fatmah Hamdan, complained to ATC about the licenses issued to Hamdan, ATC at first took no action on allegations that Fatmah Hamdan was the applicant for the licenses.
State law prohibits the practice of a person interposing on behalf of another in an attempt to obtain licenses which is what Wolfe maintains Fatmah Hamdan’s applications represented.
Hebert’s office responded to Wolfe inquiry as to why the Hamdan’s were granted licenses by saying there are no background investigations conducted by his office and that applications are accepted “on the honor system.”
Even after Wolfe’s inquiry, Hebert took no action for eight months. “You could almost hear the crickets in the ATC offices,” Wolfe said.
Only after Wolfe contacted a New Orleans television station and a station reporter made his own inquiries did Hebert initiate a probe by his office and provide the public records requested by Wolfe.
But even then, ATC at first withheld some of the records requested by Wolfe, he said.
ATC, which has been embroiled in personnel issues in recent months and which has lost a couple of lawsuits brought by former agents, has seen its enforcement powers depleted significantly during Hebert’s tenure.
The agency receives grants from various federal agencies which ostensibly are to be used for enforcement purposes.
Citations issued for underage drinking during Mardi Gras, for example, have dropped off significantly since Hebert took over the agency in November of 2010, according to records provided pursuant to a public records request by LouisianaVoice.
ATC agents issued 825 Mardi Gras-related tickets during the 2011 Carnival season. That number dropped by 80.6 percent, to 160 in 2012 and this year only 62 tickets were issued for underage drinking, a drop of 92.5 percent from 2011.
Last July, Hebert appeared with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to announce a cooperative venture between ATC and the mayor’s office in which Hebert promised to hire three new full-time agents and auxiliary agents to combat underage drinking in New Orleans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1tTdVPhNrg
To date, that grandiose promise by Hebert has remained unfulfilled. No new agents have been hired and the auxiliary agents are non-existent.
Hebert, in a March 14 email to LouisianaVoice in response to a request for a one-on-one interview, said:
“When you kick employee’s (sic) butts and make them work, sometimes you get a little crap on your boots.
“Of course these disgruntled employees are going to complain, (sic) I put a GPS on their (sic) state vehicle (sic), I stopped them from taking their state vehicle (sic) home each night, I stopped them from using state cell phones for personal use, I made them punch a time clock and I implemented a performance base (sic again) system that makes them work more productive (sigh, sic).
“As commissioner I am fighting to make sure that the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. Incompetency and laziness will not be tolerated under my watch.”
The Commissioner has spoken. All rise.