Chester Lee Mallett of Iowa likes to spread his money around but his political involvement is mostly restricted to conservative Republican candidates at both the state and federal levels.
Described as a “well-established businessman” and “a true conservative,” Mallett has served on the board of Louisiana’s Citizen Insurance Company and the State Licensing Board for Contractors—appointed to both boards by Gov. Bobby Jindal. More recently, Jindal appointed him to serve on the LSU Board of Supervisors.
The reasons for Jindal’s continuing to call on Mallett to serve in various capacities are not difficult to understand. Like many of the governor’s appointees, he has proven himself to be a generous donor to Jindal’s campaigns through personal contributions ($10,000) and seven of his companies ($148,500) since Jindal’s first gubernatorial campaign of 2003.
Mallett does not limit his largesse to state political candidates (although he has chipped in another $61,000 to other Louisiana candidates). Since 2004 alone, he contributed an additional $166,400 to national Republican candidates, all but one of whom are from Louisiana, and three separate contributions of $30,800 each to the Republican National Committee and another for $5,000. Additionally, Brad Mallett of one of Lee Mallett’s companies contributed another $30,800 to the RNC.
Republican congressional beneficiaries include U.S. Sen. David Vitter ($6.400), congressmen Jeff Landry ($5,000), Charles Boustany Jr. ($5,000) and Bill Cassidy ($5,000). Other prominent Republicans receiving contributions from Mallett include Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin ($2,500), Newt Gingrich ($1,000), Texas Gov. Rick Perry ($2,500) and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ($2,500).
Though a Republican loyalist, he did contribute $2,300 to Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2007 and $3,700 to the State Senate campaign of Democrat Willie Mount of Lake Charles in 2004.
Described as “an avid social reformer,” Mallett counts as his greatest achievement the creation and operation of The Academy of Training Skills (ATS) in Lacassine. ATS, whose corporate offices are located at the same Iowa address of all of Mallett’s other companies, opened in 2008, and serves as an alternative facility for individuals who are at risk of going to prison. Those with non-violent or non-sexual offenses are given an opportunity to reside at ATS and to enroll in any of several training programs.
ATS, approved by the Louisiana Department of Corrections, takes residents by referral from local court jurisdictions. The facility’s web page says it is seeking accreditation from the American Correction (sic) Association (ACA) and that a trade school was planned for the site. The website also said plans were in place to expand to a 1,000-resident capacity.
The American Correctional Association, located in Alexandria, Virginia, confirmed that ATS received accreditation in 2010, an indication that the ATS website has not been updated for at least two years.
Claims by ATS that residents are trained for jobs and that they receive counseling and medical treatment for addictions, however, are in dispute.
While the ATS web page touts training in pipefitting, welding, electrical, millwright, heavy equipment operator and instrumentation fitter, at least one district attorney who refers offenders to facilities such as ATS said he has experienced numerous complaints about the program and no longer refers offenders to ATS.
A spokesman for the district attorney, who requested that he not be identified because of political implications, said all his referrals now go to Cenikor Foundation, a Houston-based center with facilities in Baton Rouge.
“We just stopped sending people to ATS,” he said. “The jobs they were getting our people were jobs hamburger flipping at fast food restaurants, not technical skills. The claims that they are providing medical treatment don’t seem to be valid, either, because our referrals told us they received no medical treatment.
“Moreover, ATS works these people and pays money into personal accounts for each resident, which is certainly an accepted practice,” he said. “However, without exception, when our referrals completed their programs there, instead of receiving the money in their accounts, they wound up owing ATS money.”
He also said ATS appears to have difficulty in retaining facility directors. “There’s a lot of turnover there,” he said. “No one seems to stay more than a few months. Some of the directors seemed to try to do what the program advertises but they don’t last long before they’re gone.”
Now, it appears that Mallett may be expanding his operations to include online classes as part of the Louisiana Department of Education’s (DOE) Course Choice Program.
The Course Choice Program ostensibly provides students at failing schools the opportunity to take the online courses instead of continuing in their old schools. All the classes are online and providers are allowed to set their own course fees.
One of those approved by DOE is ATS Project Success of Michigan, which claims on its web page to offer courses in 41 states, including Louisiana. Academy of Training Schools (ATS) of 21089 South Frontage Road in Iowa, which is the same corporate address as Mallett’s seven other enterprises (including Academy of Training Skills), appears to be the Louisiana ATS entity through which courses are to be offered.
The Academy of Training Schools also contributed $6,000 to Believe in Louisiana, a 527 tax-exempt political organization founded by Baton Rouge Business Report Publisher Rolf McCollister.
McCollister was Jindal’s campaign chairman in his successful 2007 run for governor and served as chairperson of Jindal’s transition team.
Julio Melara, president of the Baton Rouge Business Report, was appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium Exposition District (Louisiana Superdome) Board in February 2008, a month after Jindal first took office.
Jindal appointed Mallett, a Republican insider, to the LSU Board in July and all the pieces now appear to be in place for Jindal to do whatever he wants with LSU in general and the LSU Medical System in particular. The recent firing of Dr. Fred Cerise and the reassignment of Dr. Roxanne Townsend would seem to support that theory.
Jindal said as much on July 2 in an interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News:
“We’re the only state in the country that runs our own government-owned, government-operated hospitals. I’ll be the first to tell you that’s not the best way to provide health care. And we’re replacing that. We’re transitioning folks on our Medicaid program to privately-run insurance coverage.”
Jindal, of course, neglected to mention that those state hospitals, particularly Charity Hospital in New Orleans served, not only as a medical safety net for indigent citizens of the state and as teaching hospitals for both the LSU and Tulane University schools of medicine.
Charity was never reopened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 even though only the basement of the 21-story facility was flooded and more than 200 military and medical volunteers restored the hospital to conditions that many said were superior to the hospital’s pre-storm state. For whatever reasons, however, electricity, which was working in the hospital, was ordered turned off and the doors were locked.
With all but one of the LSU Board members appointed by Jindal, the governor now has carte blanche to bulldoze ahead with dismantling the state’s Medicaid program—just as he promised he would in his interview with Van Susteren—in favor of privately-run insurance coverage, most likely administered by large campaign contributors.
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