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Archive for the ‘Contract, Contracts’ Category

If anything at all can be taken from the 100-plus pages of grand jury testimony of Bruce Greenstein, it’s that Greenstein’s memory lapses and his reluctance to adequately answer repeated questions about his role in the awarding of a major contract to his former bosses taxed the patience of members of the grand jury who were forced to listen to his verbal sparring with prosecutors for hours on end.

But in the end, there was no smoking gun, although Greenstein, former Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Secretary, on several occasions during his testimony said an agency-wide memorandum cautioning DHH employees to avoid contact with bidders on the $189 million contract during the selection process did not apply to him.

Though grand jury testimony is normally secret, several perjury counts returned against Greenstein in the nine-count indictment were based on his grand jury testimony so it would be subject to discovery in order for Greenstein to prepare his legal defense and therefore would be public.

Greenstein also admitted he initiated what has come to be known as “Addendum No. 2,” which was crucial in allowing his former employer, CNSI, to qualify to submit proposals for the contract, which it ultimately won in mid-2011. The contract was cancelled in March of 2013 when it became known than the FBI had been investigating the contract since January of that year.

During his testimony, it was revealed that Greenstein had maintained constant contact with a friend at CNSI, Vice President of Government Affairs Creighton Carroll and that the frequency of those contacts increased dramatically during Greenstein’s interviewing for the Louisiana job and during the formulation of Addendum No. 2.

In the first five months of 2010, for example, there eight total contacts consisting of texts and phone calls between the two men. In June of, however, just before he began the interview process for the DHH position, there were 75 contacts. From July through January, there were 864 contacts, including 227 in January of 2011 alone, when “the whole Addendum 2 stuff was going down,” according to Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson. “Before you take office,” Wilson said, “we have not even a dozen contacts with Mr. Carroll. And after you take office, we have a total…of 2,882 communications. How do you explain that?”

“He is a prolific texter,” Greenstein replied.

Further into the questioning, Wilson was still trying to reconcile Greenstein’s testimony before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in which he claimed he had no contact with CNSI officials during the bidding process and the facts to the contrary as revealed by the thousands of text messages and telephone calls between Greenstein and CNSI.

“…Four months after a very important conversation with your friend and former employer, Mr. (CNSI co-founder and President Adnan) Ahmed, and you tell Sen. (Karen Carter) Peterson (D-New Orleans) there were no vendor conversations regarding the RFP (request for proposals) after it was released,” Wilson said. “And you admitted a minute ago that that conversation with Mr. Ahmed definitely involved the RFP. So that was not an accurate statement, was it?”

“I did not make it at the time thinking it was an inaccurate statement,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein’s memory appeared to grow progressively worse as the questions became more pointed.

“Do you recall a meeting with DHH officials and DOA (Division of Administration) people, specifically (then-Commissioner of Administration) Paul Rainwater and (DHH Assistant Secretary) J.T. Lane…where you had a meeting regarding the emails that had been found? Do you remember that meeting?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t remember that meeting with Mr. Lane and Mr. Rainwater and several other people in between your testimonies before the Senate?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Do you recall being explicitly asked by folks at the meeting from both DHH and DOA, ‘Is this all there is?”

“No.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” said Wilson. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t remember having a meeting with Paul Rainwater about these emails.”

At one point during Greenstein’s testimony, it was revealed by Wilson that Greenstein supposedly agreed to a letter of recommendation on behalf of CNSI to his counterpart in Arkansas. He cited a Feb. 5, 2013 email from Carroll to DHH executive counsel Steve Russo which said, “As you know, B.G.—which I believe probably means Bruce Greenstein—has agreed to a letter of recommendation…to the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the CNSI, which was also trying to get a contract for a (sic) MMIS (Medicaid Management Information Systems) system in Arkansas, correct?”

The letter subsequently went out over Undersecretary Jerry Phillips’ signature, Wilson noted, asking “Whose idea was that?”

“I can’t remember who wanted to sign it,” Greenstein said. “I know that I didn’t want to sign that.”

“Then why does Creighton say, ‘As you know, B.G. has recommended a letter of recommendation’?”

“I probably said that when asked about a recommendation,” Greenstein said.

“Your friend asked you to help his company…get more business and you said, ‘I will do that,’ right?”

“I didn’t say I will do that.”

“Well, if you said yes, why is Jerry Phillips sending out a letter?”

“Well, it’s not Bruce Greenstein on the letter.”

“I’m going to ask you pointblank. True or false: this letter that was rewritten and signed by Jerry Phillips, you directed him to do that?”

“I do not remember that,” Greenstein said.

“How could you not remember that?”

“Because I don’t remember that.”

“That’s hard to believe, Mr. Greenstein,” Wilson said. “I mean, this reference is clearly a discussion that you had with Creighton Carroll regarding this letter that he sends to your department that he, or someone from CNSI, wrote that is then minimally changed and signed by not you, but your under-secretary.

“Jerry Phillips didn’t show you this letter before he sent it out?” Wilson asked.

“I can’t remember seeing…I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It just looks to me like between Creighton’s comment here about ‘B.G. has agreed to a letter of recommendation’—and that was on Feb. 5th and the letter was issued on Feb. 14th, nine days later—this was almost sounds like cold feet. The former letter he sends is for your signature, but in nine days, now it’s got Mr. Phillips’ …signature on it.”

[The Arkansas Department of Human Services, in July of that year, disqualified CNSI from participating in the bidding on its system as a result of the Louisiana investigation and resignation of Greenstein.]

Wilson also questioned the propriety of allowing CNSI to bid on the contract to process Medicaid claims for DHH. Brandishing a letter dated Dec. 7, 2010, from the Charlotte, N.C., law firm McGuire-Woods, he said the firm was representing CNSI in a major financial default case that threatened to bankrupt the company—a full six months before the CNSI contract was signed.

“Were you ever aware of the fact that they were basically in receivership with BOA (Bank of America) at the time they were bidding? Were you ever informed of that? Were you ever told that, as a matter of fact, their line of credit had been restricted by Bank of America to the extend they could not spend money unless they got prior approval from BOA? Did Mr. Carroll and Mr. Ahmed ever tell you about the troubles, the clear financial troubles that the company was having at the time they were trying to get this money from this bid?

“Should that have been disclosed to DHH?” Wilson asked.

“That’s a good question,” replied Greenstein.

Further into Greenstein’s testimony, he was asked if he was told to resign or be fired.

“I was told to resign,” he said.

“Were you specifically told by the administration officials that you had lied to them?”

“No.”

“They just said, ‘Get out’?”

“Actually, it was Paul Rainwater—when he was in the Chief of Staff’s office.

“And did Paul ever say, ‘Bruce, you lied to us’?”

“No.”

“You are sure about that?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“You tried not to tell the Senate that CNSI had won (the contract),” Wilson said. “You didn’t tell the Senate about communications with CNSI regarding Addendum No. 2. You didn’t tell the Senate about hundreds of communications with Carroll. You did not tell DHH and DOA officials about communications with Carroll after they asked you if there was anything else, although you say you don’t recall that meeting.”

At one point in the questioning, this time from Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, it appeared there would be a link established between the events surrounding the contract and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, but the line of questioning ended almost as abruptly as it started.

Referencing the date of Jan. 10, 2011, Caldwell said, “I see some calls from Bruce Greenstein’s work cell back and forth between you and Timmy Teepell. What did Timmy have to do with…was he was with Division of Administration or the governor’s office at that time?”

“At that time I think he was with the Chief of Staff for the governor,” Greenstein said. [Teepell never worked for DOA].

“Do you recall what he was talking to you about?” Caldwell asked.\

“I have no idea,” replied Greenstein.

“Was he talking to you about that amendment [Addendum No. 2] of this particular contract?”

“Probably not.”

“What involvement did Mr. Teepell have in this process? What information did he have about the DHH contracts? Because I think that maybe even Mr. Ahmad said in the paper that he had gone over to the governor’s mansion to talk to him, right? I’m just trying to get a sense as to how much involvement people within the governor’s office might have had.”

Caldwell also singled out a series of communications between Greenstein and Alton Ashy, who was the lobbyist for CNSI. “Was he trying to push this amendment for CNSI, this Addendum No. 2?”

“Yeah, I mean, he should have been… but he had a lot of other business at DHH as well.”

Caldwell later noted that Greenstein at one point had asked DHH Chief of Staff Calder Lynch specific questions about Ashy, saying, “A company I know wants to hire him” and that Lynch had responded, “Not that it’s terribly helpful or relevant, but we can speak offline.” Offline could, for example, mean speaking by phone rather than leaving a paper trail of emails.

“How did you come to get involved with recommending a lobbyist on CNSI’s behalf? I don’t understand how all that went down.”

Caldwell also grilled Greenstein on his intervention on behalf of CNSI when it became apparent that CNSI was unable to make good on its required bond for the contract. “Did you have discussion with (DHH executive Counsel) Steve Russo in which it was discussed whether you could wait until the contract was signed to call for the bond to be posted?”

“I don’t remember a conversation like that.”

Greenstein and Caldwell sparred over the refusal to allow Greenstein to communicate with Russo after the investigation was initiated. “DHH wouldn’t allow me to talk with my own attorney,” Greenstein complained.

“Is he your personal lawyer?” Caldwell asked.

“He represented the secretary in many proceedings…he reiterated many, many times…that he was my attorney and we have attorney-client privilege.”

“Let me explain to you why he doesn’t want to talk to you,” Caldwell said. “There’s all these things in your deposition where you have said that people said something or they didn’t say something—and I will tell you right now, it is directly contradicted by what those people have said. [Caldwell hinted at but never actually said that Russo was—and is—paid by the State of Louisiana and represents DHH but not any DHH personnel once they come under investigation for or charged by the state with wrongdoing].

Later, Caldwell brought up boasts by CNSI officials that they had political influence with Greenstein’s office. “Are you aware that they constantly threw it around that they had influence on the ninth floor and this is how they were going to get the contract?”

“No,” Greenstein replied.

Even though Greenstein maintained that he pushed for Addendum No. 2 as a means of opening up the bidding process to more vendors in the hopes of obtaining the best deal possible for the state, Caldwell noted that when another bidder, ACS, requested an extension of the proposal deadline, “Bruce said no,” according to an internal DHH email.

After the attorneys took their shots, individual members of the grand jury had their turn at asking questions of Greenstein and the mood of the grand jury was best summed up by one member near the close of testimony who said:

“Sir, I just have two questions. How are you being transparent when you can’t recall anything and secondly, when you sit down with your children and you explain your part in Louisiana history, what will you tell them?”

For those with lots of time on your hands, here is a link to the full transcript of the grand jury testimony: http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Bruce_Greenstein_Grand_Jury_Testimony.pdf

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Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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Never let it be said that LouisianaVoice isn’t willing to save the state a little money.

Remember that survey of Division of Administration (DOA) employees that revealed severe morale problems throughout state government? Well, in case you don’t, here’s the link to our story on that survey: http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/02/employee-survey-of-doa-employees-reveals-simmering-morale-problem-no-one-more-popular-than-jindal-in-poll/

It turns out the state shelled out $25,000 to IBM for that survey that showed employees simply are not happy with the administration, scoring it abysmally low in trust, employee recognition, senior leadership values, communication from management, senior leadership vision, opportunity for advancement, employee involvement in decision making, and prospects for positive change.

Basically, the survey showed that state leadership languishes far below the national norm. In a word, it sucks.

But $25,000 to learn that? We could have told the administration that for…oh say, $5.

So who authorized the expenditure of scarce state funds for such a worthless piece of research when the conclusions were long evident to state employees and certainly should have been to the administration?

Well, it turns out that Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson signed off on the contract with IBM on June 24.

Johnson, you might recall, retired on June 21, 2012, from her $130,000 per year job as head of the Department of Children and Family services. She moved out of state but returned on May 27, 2013, as Director of Accountability and Research for DOA at $150,000 and less than four months later, on Sept. 30, 2013, was promoted to Assistant Commissioner at $170,000 per year. As if that were not enough, on Feb. 24 of this year, she was again promoted to the title of Director in the governor’s office at $180,000. Bottom line: in just 16 months, she retired and returned, netting in the process a pay increase of $50,000 per year—more than the average state employee makes in a year.

That will do wonders for employee morale.

LouisianaVoice made a public records request on Oct. 3 for the request for proposals (RFP), the contract and payment history for the survey contract with IBM.

On Oct. 6, DOA responded to our request:

  • Your public records request, dated October 3, 2014, was received by the Division of Administration. We are conducting a search for records.  Once the search is finished, the records will be reviewed for privileges and exemptions.  We will contact you as soon as the review is completed.

Three weeks later, on Oct. 24, DOA finally complied with a six-page document. Apparently, there was no RFP for a vendor—just a sketchy six-page document and even more significant, there were no redactions, no privileges or exemptions. There was only a delay of three full weeks—14 working days—in complying with our request.

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:1 says:

  • All books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memoranda, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state, are “public records.”

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:33 says:

  • If the public record applied for is immediately available, because of its not being in active use at the time of the application, the public record shall be immediately presented to the authorized person applying for it.  If the public record applied for is not immediately available, because of its being in active use at the time of the application, the custodian shall promptly certify this in writing to the applicant, and in his certificate shall fix a day and hour within three days, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays, for the exercise of the right granted by this Chapter.

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:37 says:

  • Any person having custody or control of a public record, who violates any of the provisions of this Chapter, or any person not having such custody or control who by any conspiracy, understanding or cooperation with any other person hinders or attempts to hinder the inspection of any public records declared by this Chapter to be subject to inspection, shall upon first conviction be fined not less than one hundred dollars, and not more than one thousand dollars, or shall be imprisoned for not less than one month, nor more than six months.  Upon any subsequent conviction he shall be fined not less than two hundred fifty dollars, and not more than two thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not less than two months, nor more than six months, or both.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that DOA has launched an intensive witch hunt for our source on the employee satisfaction survey, which apparently was supposed to be a closely-guarded state secret. And while we really hate to even let them know this and spoil the fun, the funniest thing is they are so far off base in their search. They don’t have the foggiest idea that our sources are not even in a single building; they’re scattered throughout state government because apparently state employees place more trust in what we write than what the administration says.

So guys, have fun in your search because every time you think you’ve found one, three more pop up. You can’t stop the truth. Hell, you can’t even slow it down.

Given the results of the survey, it’s easy to understand why DOA wanted to keep the survey from public view. What’s not so easy to comprehend is why the Jindal administration is so hell-bent on keeping everything it does from public scrutiny.

We will make this observation, however: When an administration goes to such great lengths to shield its actions from public view and when that same administration expends an inordinate amount of time and effort in attempting to determine the source of leaks of such benign, non-sensitive information as a simple employee survey, one can only deduce that administration has far more to hide than a simple satisfaction survey.

And paranoia, it seems, feeds upon itself.

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In reading Destiny’s Anvil, a novel about Louisiana politics by New Orleans writer Steven Wells Hicks, one sentence near the end of the story was so profound that it jumped off the page at us:

  • The responsibility for building and maintaining our way of open and honest government belongs in the hands of those who elect our leaders and not the leaders themselves.

The very simplicity of that one sentence, so succinct and straightforward a summation of what our government should aspire to, should be the credo which dictates the acceptance of every campaign contribution, every promise made and every action carried out by every elected official in America.

Sadly, it does not. And most certainly, it does not in Louisiana, especially where generous donors to the campaigns of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Florida, R-Anywhere by Louisiana) are concerned.

LouisianaVoice has learned that one major donor and its principals not only benefitted from several contracts worth more than $240 million, but also appear to have been given preferable treatment in the purchase of a state building at a bargain price at the expense of taxpayers.

The electorate of this state has capitulated in that responsibility, choosing instead to acquiesce to backroom deals fueled by campaign contributions and to actions concealed in secrecy and carried out for political expedience or personal gain instead of for the common good of the citizenry.

Remember last month when we wrote that Timmy Teepell in 2010 issued a directive to Tommy Teague, then the CEO of the Office of Group Benefits that a request for proposals (RFP) be crafted in such a way as to favor a specific vendor and that then-Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis resigned shortly thereafter?

At the time, Teepell was Jindal’s Chief of Staff. The RFP was for vendors to provide health care coverage to state workers primarily in northeast Louisiana. Vantage Health Plan of Monroe subsequently landed the 26 month, $70 million contract, effective July 1, 2010. Six months later, on Jan. 1, 2011, a second one-year contract of $14 million awarded to Vantage to provide a Medicare Advantage plan for eligible OGB retirees and on Sept. 1, 2012, Vantage received yet another four-month $10 million contract under an emergency rule to provide an HMO plan to OGB members.

Since Jindal took office in January of 2008, Vantage has been awarded six contracts totaling nearly $242 million.

In addition to the claim of the 2010 directive to Teague to “write a tightly-written” RFP, LouisianaVoice has learned the Jindal administration may have deliberately circumvented the usual procedure for selling state property in order that Vantage could purchase a six-story state office building in Monroe last year.

By legislative fiat, the administration was within its legal rights to sell the State Office Building in Monroe to a chosen buyer without going through the bid process but it may have done so at a cost to state taxpayers.

Senate Bill 216 of 2013 by Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) passed overwhelming in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Jindal as Act 127, clearing the way for the sale of the former Virginia Hotel at 122 St. John Street.

By law, if a legislative act is passed, the state can legally bypass the public bid process but there are several indications that the administration may well have gone out of its way to accommodate Vantage and its President, Dr. Patrick Gary Jones through the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED).

The cooperative endeavor agreement between Vantage and the state was executed by Vantage Executive Vice President Mike Breard and LED Undersecretary Anne Villa on Aug. 28, 2013.

Vantage paid the state $881,000 for the six-story, 100,750-square-foot building and an adjoining 39,260-square-foot lot and one-story office building. The cost breakdown was $655,000 for the hotel and $226,000 for the adjoining property.

The Virginia Hotel was constructed in 1925 at a cost of $1.6 million and underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984, according to documents provided LouisianaVoice by DED.

But LouisianaVoice has learned that there was at least one other potential buyer interested in the Virginia Hotel/State Office Building and indeed, documents obtained from LED contained no fewer than three references to fears by Vantage officers that if the building were put up for public auction, the bids might make the costs prohibitive to Vantage.

Melody Olson and husband Kim purchased the nearby Penn Hotel for $341,000 and poured $2 million into converting it into condominiums.

The late Shady Wall, a colorful state representative from Ouachita Parish, lived in the Penn’s penthouse. (Wall once wedged a pencil between a stack of books and the “yes” button at his House desk and went home for the day, officially casting “yes” votes on every matter that came up in the chamber after his departure.) The Olsons now reside in that same penthouse.

Melody Olson told LouisianaVoice that she and her husband wanted to purchase the Virginia and convert it into a boutique hotel but were never given the opportunity.

“It was sold through the Department of Economic Development and never was offered for public bid,” she said. “We never got the chance to make an offer.”

One internal LED memorandum said that Vantage Health Plan (VHP) “approached LED to help arrange the sale in order to avoid typical State surplus real property requirements of public bidding. VHP fears that public bidding would allow a developer utilizing various incentive programs to pay an above market price that VHP would find hard to match.” (Emphasis added.) IMAG0379

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Another document appears to be an internal memorandum that provides an overview of a 2012 meeting about the sale. It indicates that LED Secretary Stephen Moret, Sen. Walsworth, LED Legislative and Congressional Liaison Mandi Mitchell and LED Director of Contract Performance Shawn Welcome were in attendance on behalf of the state and Dr. Jones and his son-in-law Michael Echols, Director of Business Development, representing Vantage.

Under a heading entitled Company Issues/Concerns there were these two notations:

  • “Developers have purchased and converted some downtown Monroe buildings into mixed use buildings (by) taking advantage of federal and state restoration tax credits.”
  • “Concern: Vantage is worried that if SB (state building) is offered through regular channels, developers using federal tax credits could outbid Vantage.” IMAG0377

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Finally, there was a handwritten note which described another meeting on Nov. 1, 2012. Besides the notation that “Sen. Riser supports,” there was this:

  • “Problem is option of auction—if auction comes there is possibility of tax credits allowing a bidder to out-bid.”

IMAG0378

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Finally, there was a hand-scrawled notation at the bottom of a typewritten page containing employment estimates by Vantage through 2024 which directed that an “approach” be written “specific to Vantage.”

And while Vantage repeatedly cited concerns about other potential buyers obtaining state and federal incentives which they might use to thwart their purchase plans for the building, Vantage was not shy about seeking incentives from the state for its own benefit.

Documents obtained from LED show no fewer than 20 applications or notices of applications for various state incentive programs, including Enterprise Zone, Quality Jobs Program and property tax exemptions for renovations to existing offices in Monroe or expansion into new offices in Shreveport, Mangham, West Monroe, New Orleans and even into Arkansas.

Nor were Vantage and its corporate principals shy about flashing cash for political campaign contributions.

Campaign finance records show that Vantage its affiliate, Affinity Health Group, their corporate officers and family members combined to contribute more than $100,000 to various political campaigns, including $22,000 to Jindal and $11,000 to three of the four Senators who authored the bill authorizing the sale of the Virginia Hotel to Vantage: Thompson ($5,400), Walsworth ($4,500), and Riser ($1,000.

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While we have had no trouble unearthing double standards, misrepresentations, distortions and outright lies in our coverage of the Jindal administration, political campaigns often take the practice to a new level.

The mind-numbing campaign for the U.S. Senate comes to mind. At this point in the campaign, voters just wish Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy would both shut up and leave us alone. But those TV ads from both camps keep pounding away at us, each accusing the other of distortions, lies, misrepresentations, pro-this, and anti-that.

The comic strip Non Sequitur would well have been referencing either candidate with this submission:

nq141010[1]

Or it could have been alluding to the recently ramped-up campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate Garrett Graves, former chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, who only recently kicked off his media blitz.

Of course most observers are accustomed to grandiose promises.

For at least the past 20 years or so, the challenger in the Baton Rouge mayor-president’s election without fail has promised to improve public education in East Baton Rouge Parish—never mind the fact that the mayor’s office has absolutely nothing to do with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Zero. Zilch. They are two entirely separate political entities.

And we’re all used to congressional candidates saying they are going to fight waste, work to improve infrastructure, and vote to defend the Constitution blah, blah, blah.

But Graves has taken the rhetoric to a new extreme. He has one TV spot running on the Baton Rouge in which he says not that he will “work to” or “vote to,” but that he “will” repeal Obamacare, he “will” cut spending, he “will” stop illegal immigration, and he “will” eliminate terrorism.

Those are pretty big promises, folks, and unless he’s Clark Kent in disguise, we just can’t see how one freshman tea party congressman can impose his will on 434 other members of the House and 100 senators, not all of whom are tea partiers.

And while we are on the subject of political rhetoric, there has been much said about U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s ownership of an $800,000 home in Washington, D.C. while not owning a home outright in Louisiana (though she is part owner, along with her siblings, of her parents’ home in New Orleans).

But not a peep has been said about Graves’ 2005 purchase of a home at 210 11th Street SE in Washington, also appraised at more than $800,000. Nothing on his federal financial disclosure statement for Jan. 1, 2013 through July 15, 2014, indicates ownership of a home in Louisiana—not even part ownership of his father’s home—although he does list ownership of property in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And Graves has never been elected to any office, let alone one that demands his presence in Washington.

He apparently purchased the home during his tenure in Washington. He worked as a policy adviser to former U.S. Sen. John Breaux and U.S. Congressman Billy Tauzin and worked for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He also served as staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Climate Change and Impacts. http://www.epa.gov/gcertf/bios/graves.html

Apparently he liked Washington well enough to plan on returning because he did not sell the home when he grabbed onto Gov. Bobby Jindal’s coattails in 2008 to head up CPRA at $135,000 per year through 2012. His salary was bumped up to $147,300 in 2013, according to his financial disclosure records.

Even though he left the state’s employ on February 28, his financial statement indicates he still received $52,961 in salary from the state this year and another $31,346 from Evans-Graves Engineers, the firm owned by his father, John Graves.

Graves flew pretty much under the radar until he became a high-profile opponent of the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies for damage to the state’s wetlands while at the same time carping at the U.S. Coast Guard for its failure to force BP to be more responsive to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. http://theadvocate.com/home/8290180-125/graves-to-step-down-from

His opposition to the lawsuit seeking to hold big oil responsible for the damage it has done to the state’s coastline for the past century notwithstanding, the real story of Garrett Graves is the awarding of more than $130 million in government contracts to his father’s engineering firm while he was head of CPRA, which oversees such contracts.

That figure represented an 1800 percent increase over contracts awarded to Evans-Graves for all years prior to Garrett Graves’ tenure at CPRA.

Some might call this old news, given the fact that Jeremy Alford first reported on this as far back as 2008. http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20080203/news/659908125

But the practice went unabated for years after his story and even more curious, when an ethics opinion was sought as to the propriety of the contracts, it was not the Louisiana Board of Ethics that was consulted, but attorney Jimmy Faircloth.

Faircloth, who was Jindal’s first executive counsel before running unsuccessfully for the Louisiana Supreme Court, has done extensive legal work for the administration, collecting fees in excess of $1 million defending losing positions that Jindal has championed.

But his issuing an ethics opinion in the case of Evans-Graves Engineering appears to have been a conflict in itself: Faircloth at the time was the legal counsel for Evans-Graves.

“As we discussed, Governor Jindal has asked that we disclose and commit to avoiding even the appearance of conflict,” Faircloth said in his opinion. “Thus, as we agreed, out of an abundance of caution, the appropriate solution is that your father’s company not pursue an interest in or receive any state contract that involves coastal restoration, levees or hurricane protection while you serve in the administration. This would explicitly include such contracts overseen by DOTD (Department of Transportation and Development) and DNR (Department of Natural Resources).”

Even though Garrett Graves in February of 2008 agreed to cease pursuing projects that could cause a conflict of interest, Evans-Graves kept receiving lucrative contracts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CPRA’s primary partner. And while Garrett Graves did not actually sign the contracts, his agency did set priorities for the state on corps-related work.

“I said from the beginning there was a potential conflict of interest, and apparently that fell on deaf ears,” said John Graves when the issue first arose more than six years ago. Jindal’s office professed to know nothing of the potential conflict.

And even though Garrett Graves was working for the state and his father’s company was receiving millions of dollars in contracts with the Corps of Engineers through Garrett Graves’ agency, Garrett Graves was given a Toyota Tundra truck by the elder graves in 2009, a clear violation of state ethics rules against state employees accepting gifts from vendors.

And while Evans-Graves was receiving millions of dollars in CPRA-approved contracts with the Corps of Engineers, Evans-Graves was subcontracting nearly $66.5 million in work to 18 construction and contract companies, compared to only $3.5 million prior to Garrett Graves’ appointment. Those 18 subcontractors have combined to contribute more than $250,000 to Graves’ congressional campaign.

Additionally, 11 of those 18 companies, along with corporate officers and family members, have combined to contribute nearly $316,000 to various political campaigns of Jindal.

Here is the list of subcontractors and the amounts they and/or their corporate officers and families contributed to Jindal:

  • Daybrook Fisheries—$1,000;
  • Industrial Specialty Contractors—$29,500;
  • Bollinger Shipyards—$65,850;
  • Major Equipment and Remediation—$50,000;
  • Arkel Constructors—$4,500;
  • Delta Launch Services—$11,000;
  • Cajun Constructors—$52,000;
  • Coastal Environments—$30,500;
  • Performance Contractors—$41,500;
  • H. Fenstermaker & Associates—$20,500;

JNB Operating—$5,000.

And now Garrett Graves just wants to move back into his $800,000 home in D.C.

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If the Retired State Employees Association (RSEA) goes forward with filing a legal challenge to the proposed changes to health care coverage for state employees, retirees and their dependents, it may have a significant hook on which to hang its case in a report submitted by a company contracted by the Jindal administration which attempted to base its plan changes at least in part on that same report.

If you’re confused, you should be for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols laid the decision to make the changes in the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plan at the feet of Buck Consultants but the firm’s report is in direct contradiction to the testimony of Nichols at the Sept. 25 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.

The proposed health benefit changes are so radical for some 230,000 OGB members that the RSEA has scheduled a meeting with a law firm which has tentatively agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis, says Frank Jobert, RSEA’s executive director. http://theadvocate.com/sports/southern/10465870-123/retirees-considering-legal-challenge

RSEA is looking at the failure to go through the necessary legal procedures for approval of changes in plan benefits and “diverting” money from the OGB fund balance which has dwindled from a high of more than $500 million to less than half that amount and which is projected to go broke next year if changes are not implemented.

Nichols has consistently blamed the financial condition of OGB on rising costs she attributed to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Critics, however, point to three straight years of decreased premiums that allowed the state to commit fewer state funds to its 75 percent match which in turn allowed the administration to divert those monies to cover budget holes even as the reserve fund continued to shrink.

Nichols was consistently evasive when asked during last month’s hearings of the House Appropriations Committee, three times managing to evade the direct question of who the actuary was who recommended decreases in premiums over three consecutive years.

Finally, State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who had already asked the question once without getting an answer, observed, “In fiscal 2013, there was a 7.11 percent reduction in premiums followed by 1.8 percent even though health care costs were going up by 6 percent.”

In questioning Nichols during the Appropriations Committee hearing, Edwards had accused the administration of taking a “self-manufactured crisis” and turning it into an emergency “because we had a fund balance that was healthy.

“We had OGB members who were relatively happy with the plan and today we have an unhealthy fund balance and OGB members who are very unhappy.”

He then asked again, “What actuary told you these reductions were sound?”

Nichols, who was already halfway out the door—before the committee meeting adjourned—on her way to taking her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert in the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the luxury box assigned to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), replied, “Buck Consulting recommended a 2.25 percent decrease for calendar 2012.”

http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/01/watching-kristy-kreme-nichols-responding-to-legislators-like-watching-jerry-lewis-movie-mixture-of-exasperation-humor/

Well, not exactly. When one reads pages ii and iii of the summary report of the Buck Consultants Actuarial Valuation at 7/1/2013, a starkly different message is conveyed.

http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/osrap/library/afr%20packetts/2014OGB_OPEBValuationReport.pdf

On Page ii, under the CLAIMS AND PREMIUM EXPERIENCE heading, the report says:

  • “Overall, the plan had favorable claims experience, resulting in a gain. The gain was offset by losses associated with premiums not increasing as expected. See Substantive Plan discussions below.”

Under SUBSTANTIVE PLAN on Page iii, the report says:

  • “It is our understanding that the Plan premium rates, used both to determine contributions from the various employer agencies and to set contributions required from the retirees, were set artificially low to draw down the OGB’s reserve fund… (emphasis added.) As noted above, premium rates were again lower than expected for this year’s valuation.”

Moreover, an email from Buck Consultants representative Tom Tomczyk to OGB CEO Susan West dated Sept. 28 (three days after the Appropriations Committee hearing) says, “The 2.25percent (rate decrease) was not a recommendation for January 1, 2012, but only used to validate our projections for the Fiscal Year 2012-2013. We did not recommend a decrease of 7 percent effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77 percent effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal year beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012-2013.”

In fact, according to that same email, Tomczyk said Buck Consultants was asked in late 2011 for its projection of the indicated rate increase for Fiscal Year 2012-2013. “At that time, based on the most recent claims information available, we projected a rate increase (emphasis added) of 1.75 percent needed as of July 1, 2012.”

An earlier email, on Nov. 12, 2013, from Tomczyk to West’s predecessor, Charles Calvi, who served as CEO of OGB from Jan. 9, 2012, to Jan 31, 2014, concluded, “We have not been asked to provide recommendations for rate adjustments since calendar year 2012.”

The consulting firm’s report, dated July 2014, noted significant decreases in several areas of net liabilities to OGB and gains in areas that benefitted the agency’s bottom line, according to two financial experts who were shown the report.

“As I see it, the Buck report directly contradicts the way Ms. Nichols has presented this,” one said. “Unless I do not understand plain English, Buck says, ‘Overall, the plan had favorable claims experience, resulting in a gain.’ How can a clear gain be a loss by anybody’s definition?”

He noted the following:

  • The actuarial accrued liability (AAL) for July 2013 was $103 million less than what had been projected in July of 2012, meaning that OGB was in better shape on July 1, 2013, than had been predicted. The AAL also increased by only $157 from last year when it had been projected to increase by $260 million.
  • The amount paid in claims was less than predicted and actually decreased the AAL by $195 million—and would have decreased it even more had premiums not been less than projected.
  • The report clearly attributes a loss to OGB of $388 million—totally a result of reduced premiums through Fiscal Year 2012 and that this loss was increased by additional decreases in premium rates in Fiscal Year 2013.
  • The report, on Page iv, minimizes the effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on these calculations and points out that the ACA provided improvements in Part D coverage.

“I am frankly shocked at this report and what has been said about this whole thing by others,” he said. “Either I am totally stupid or it blows all previous explanations away.”

Edwards, commenting on the contents of the Buck Consultants report, said, “Nothing in this supports Kristy Nichols.”

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You have to hand it to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols. When she has something to do, she is completely One Direction-al about it.

As the minutes ticked by during the House Appropriations Committee’s seven-hour hearing on the Office of Group Benefits on Sept. 25, and as Division of Administration (DOA) Executive Counsel Liz Murrill and the rest of the DOA pack occupied themselves by texting during heart-wrenching testimony from those who will be adversely affected by rising deductibles and co-pays, Kristy fidgeted.

She continued to fidget and to be as evasive as possible with her answers to questions from legislators until she suddenly “got an important phone call” and left the committee room. She did not return before the meeting finally adjourned.

In fact, it was not a telephone call that pulled her from the meeting at all.

One Direction, the latest boy band to make little girls squeal, was playing in the Smoothie King Arena in New Orleans and Kristy and her daughter (and possibly some of her daughter’s friends) watched the concert from the special Arena luxury suite assigned to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana).

Kristy Kreme at the Smoothie King. Has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

Kristy Kreme could have told the audience the truth. Certainly OGB members, mostly retirees, who had traveled from all over the state to testify and to get answers would have understood that a teeny bopper band was more important to Kristy Kreme than the medical coverage of 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

But you see, telling the truth simply is not her style.

Witness her repeated claims that the OGB $500 million reserve fund was reduced to only about half that amount because of Obama Care and rising health care costs. She made that claim repeatedly, blaming those two factors and those alone for the drawdown of the reserve fund when everyone on the committee and those in the audience knew better.

Everyone in attendance knew that three consecutive years of premium reductions in the face of rising costs was the reason the fund has been all but depleted. She would never admit that even though everyone knew that Jindal lowered the rates so that the state’s 75 percent contribution to member premiums would be reduced also, thus leaving money that would have gone to premium payments for Jindal to use to plug gaping holes in his budget.

Remember when Kristy Kreme’s predecessor, former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater wrote that comforting letter to OGB members in April of 2011 in an effort to debunk all those rumors about increased costs and raids on the reserve fund? No? Well, we have it right here: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4F444D324D5441344C6C4245526A51344E7A413D

In that letter, Rainwater said members would continue to receive quality service and coverage, benefits would NOT change, and OGB’s administrative oversight would continue, “securing the continued success of all the plans.”

“As for the allegation that OGB’s surplus will somehow be ‘stolen,’” Rainwater continued, “let me be absolutely clear: this claim is categorically untrue.”

But that was yesterday, as Chad and Jeremy sang back in the 60s, and yesterday’s gone. Let us return to the AWOL Kristy Kreme.

Even as she was invoking her super powers to convince legislators and audience members that she had only the best interest of OGB members at heart and that the depletion of the reserve fund was beyond the control of the administration, the report of Buck Consultants, hired by Kristy Kreme said on page iii of its summary: IMG_9230

  • It is our understanding that the Plan premium rates, used both to determine contributions from the various employer agencies, and to set contributions required from the retirees, were set artificially low to draw down the OGB’s reserve fund, and it is our further understanding that this is a temporary deviation from the Plan’s substantive plan, which continues to provide for the legislated 75-25 cost-sharing under a “full subsidy” from the State. Our valuation anticipates that the 21 percent premium deficiency will be gradually eliminated on a uniform basis over five years from fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2019 through increases in retiree premium rates in excess of the underlying assumed health trend. The actuary notes that in the prior valuation at July 1, 2012, the plan incurred a loss of $388 million associated with premium rates lower than anticipated.

For the entire Buck Consultants report, click here. http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/osrap/library/afr%20packetts/2014OGB_OPEBValuationReport.pdf

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said he had received a copy of the Buck report earlier. “Nothing in this supports Kristy Nichols,” he said.

Edwards has been a vocal critic of the proposed OGB changes, claiming that the increased co-pays and deductibles will create unnecessary hardships on retirees, some of whom are facing co-payments and deductibles higher than their monthly income.

The entire OGB affair has become so confusing that many OGB members were turned away from the first meeting held in Baton Rouge on Monday to explain the changes. Jindal fired about two dozen OGB workers in the last round of firings and Kristy Kreme immediately found it necessary to contract with Ansafone of San Diego, California, and Ocala, Florida which has been trying to hire 100 people in each state to man telephone banks to answer questions about Louisiana’s plan.

Kristy Kreme has already found it necessary to dispatch one OGB employee to San Diego to train Ansafone employees and now $107,000-a-year OGB Chief Operating Officer Bill Guerra is in San Diego conducting training sessions on how to answer questions from OGB members.

DOA, by the way, is supposed to be strapped for cash and there is a statewide freeze on out of state travel but apparently found it necessary to send Guerra to California for a month.

So, let’s recap:

  • Jindal fires most of the OGB employees, including director Tommy Teague, and turns over a perfectly smooth-running agency to Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) with promises of no changes in benefits or premiums.
  • Less than two years after BCBS takes over, the OGB reserve fund is depleted by one half.
  • The administration fires two dozen more employees because of a lack of work and then enters into a $1.3 million contract with a California company to respond to questions from Louisiana residents.
  • Kristy has to hire two executives from BCBS to help OGB CEO Susan West who apparently is not up to the task. One of those, who ostensibly serves under West, is paid a higher salary than West.
  • Kristy Kreme Nichols attempts to mislead legislators and OGB members by repeatedly saying Obamacare is responsible for rising health costs and the depletion of the OGB reserve fund. No one buys her story.
  • Kristy tells State Rep. John Bel Edwards that the OGB actuary, Buck Consultants, recommended a decrease in premiums but a single paragraph from the Buck Consultants report summary contradicts that claim.
  • Two OGB executives have been sent to California to attempt to teach Ansafone employees how to respond to questions from Louisiana residents.
  • Kristy Kreme ducks out on legislators near the end of the Sept. 25 hearing by the House Appropriations Committee to take her daughter to a One Direction concert in New Orleans where she and her daughter occupy Jindal’s suite at the Smoothie King Arena.
  • A survey of employee job satisfaction conducted in 21 agencies in the Division of Administration reveals widespread dissatisfaction and distrust of the administration. Understandably, the survey has never been released and its contents were not divulged until LouisianaVoice recently obtained a copy.

And now, Jindal is offering foreign policy advice to President Obama with the release of a “policy paper” that calls for more defense spending. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/10/bobby_jindal_takes_on_obama_fo.html

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