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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

By Robert Burns

A recent Advocate article revealed that an LSP member of Gov. Jindal’s family-security team, Sgt. Damiem Dyson, Sr., was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving. Dyson rear-ended a vehicle in front of him, causing it to crash into several trees but, thankfully, the driver of the vehicle was not injured. Meanwhile, Dyson continued on to the next exit, where he pulled over and authorities apprehended him. He registered 0.175% blood-alcohol content, which is more than twice the legal limit for drunk driving in Louisiana. He was apprehended, placed in jail, placed on paid administrative leave, and an investigation by the Internal Affairs Division of LSP ensued.

Col. Edmonson weighed in on the incident: “As law enforcement professionals, we have not only legal responsibilities but also high standards of integrity that must be upheld at all times while serving the citizens of Louisiana,” he said. “Following a thorough criminal and administrative investigation, the department will review all findings in this matter and take swift steps to ensure an impartial and appropriate course of action.”

That sounds proactive and procedurally prudent until we take a peek at Edmonson’s own driving habits at LSP. In 1983, Edmonson was issued a letter of reprimand for an overly-aggressive effort to assist Denham Springs Police during which he crossed the medium and struck a light pole. Then-LSP Col. J. C. Willie said, “I recommend that in the future you take all precaution in the operation of your unit to avoid accidents of this kind.”  Granted, Edmonson was a young trooper at the time, and that incident may well be attributed to an overly-zealous desire to protect the safety of Louisiana citizens. LouisianaVoice readers may recall that when Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor in January of 2008, he proclaimed that a new day in Louisiana governmental transparency had arrived.  Further, he repeatedly invoked the refrain, “We have zero tolerance for corruption.” Now, as we approach the end of Jindal’s eight-year tenure as Louisiana’s absentee chief executive, the jury has clearly returned with the verdict that his initial pronouncements were all nothing more than good old garden variety horse manure.

Edmonson managed to avoid further disciplinary action until 1988. That was the year of a Papal visit to New Orleans.  Although Edmonson was accused of other wrongdoing which was overturned on appeal, Edmonson was suspended for 10 days for working 13 hours of security detail on that visit without obtaining proper approval and for failure to evidence the security detail having been worked by submitting a copy of his check for payment as well as another document required by LSP protocol.

Three years later, in 1991, he received another letter of reprimand for careless vehicle operation. While attempting to park, Edmonson apparently was distracted by a horn being blown by a vehicle behind him. When he looked to his rear, he struck the left front bumper of the parked vehicle. Edmonson was deemed “at fault” and admonished to “exercise care and caution in the operation of your unit to avoid accidents of this kind.”

Then, in 1994, Edmonson was suspended for 40 hours due to “insufficient attentiveness for the demands of the situation.”  At 1:25 a.m. on April 1, 1994, Edmonson “left the Eastbound lane of I-12,” after which he “collided with a concrete piling of an overpass.” The report includes hand-written instructions for an official named Eddie to “verify LWOP” (leave without pay).  The report indicates that Edmonson “suffered serious injuries” and that the vehicle “was extensively damaged to the point that it is considered a total loss.”  The report also indicates that driving at high speeds on an interstate requires “constant vigilance” and further relays, “It is apparent from your statement that you were aware that your degree of attentiveness was insufficient for the demands required by the situation.”  The report then says that, as an LSP trooper, Edmonson should have recognized “your condition” and “taken the initiative to recommit yourself to your driving obligations.” LSP is “extremely fortunate that you were not more seriously injured and perhaps even more fortunate that innocent persons were not involved,” the report concluded

The retired LSP trooper who’d initiated the contact to suggest that Edmonson’s personnel file be examined said of the wording of the reprimand, “That’s a flowery way for the department to say he was drunk.” He also said he and several of his colleagues had been lied to. He said, “We were told that Edmonson was a passenger in the vehicle and another trooper was driving. This is the first I’ve heard of Edmonson being the one doing the driving.”  A second law enforcement officer indicated that while he knew Edmonson was the driver, there was a concerted effort on the part of LSP to “cover the whole incident up.”  The retired trooper source also said, “Our jaws just dropped when we learned Gov. Jindal was appointing Edmonson as LSP Colonel.”

Edmonson was suspended for another 16 hours.  This suspension again resulted from careless operation of his vehicle. It seems that while waiting at a drive-thru teller line at Whitney Bank on Government Street—with an unauthorized passenger in his LSP vehicle (Edmonson’s 12-year-old son)—at 1:30 p.m. on August 18, 1995, Edmonson “reached down to retrieve a check from the front seat.” When he did so, his foot slipped off the brake pedal, thus resulting in the vehicle moving forward. In attempting to stop, Edmonson apparently went to apply the brake, but instead at least partially hit the accelerator and smashed into the vehicle in front of him. Both passengers in the vehicle Edmonson hit complained of minor injuries.

Tyler Bridges, in his excellent book Bad Bet on the Bayou, noted that state police superintendent is one of the most important appointments a Louisiana governor makes. Bridges describes the position as historically an “enforcement arm” of any Louisiana governor’s policies and agenda.

Jindal appointed Mike Edmonson as his LSP Colonel and for more than six years, most people had little reason to question Edmonson’s integrity or the way he operated his department. That all changed, however when news of the “Edmonson Amendment” broke on July 11. The stealth amendment attempted to cram through a $55,000 per year boost to Edmonson’s retirement pension.

Before the episode was fully rectified (via a lawsuit filed by Sen. Dan Claitor to have the law declared unconstitutional), considerable collateral fallout transpired. The fallout arose from the fact that, upon the LouisianaVoice post, numerous retired LSP troopers began providing insight into Edmonson’s managerial style.

As a result, considerable evidence of payroll cronyism and nepotism within LSP became known. C. B. Forgotston revealed the existence of a 49-5 club of retired LSP troopers deemed to be in the “Edmonson clique” who were rehired at annual salaries of $49,500 each (though payroll records reveal no one making that precise salary) to perform menial tasks like making coffee, running errands for the purchase of donuts for the “breakfast crew,” etc.  Now as most Louisiana Voice readers have just read in the news, Jindal is about to be forced to make $171 million in mid-year budget cuts due to revenue shortfalls.  The cuts are necessary notwithstanding Jindal’s phantom “surplus” found by Kristy Nichols despite contradictory claims by folks like State Treasurer John Kennedy. Isn’t it a tad bit galling to know $171 million in cuts is being required, yet the state has plenty of money to rehire troopers whose only tasks are to simply hang around the office?

Perhaps Edmonson’s own perfection of the art of deception and misdirection explains why he has endured—and very nearly prospered monetarily—while others who at least seemed to possess the attributes Jindal espoused were told to take a hike. At any rate, as we see the upcoming commercials and warnings from LSP to please drive safely during the upcoming holiday season, let’s hope that they’re instilling the same friendly warnings to their own ranks, including at the highest level.

 

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The good people of Alabama need not fear the corruptive influence of former Gov. Donald Siegelman. Women and children may emerge from hiding, confident they are now safe and no longer must be protected from his treachery.

Siegelman is securely incarcerated at Oakdale’s federal lockup, the same facility that once housed another former governor—Louisiana’s very own Edwin W. Edwards—and from all accounts Sweet Home Alabama is the better for his prolonged absence.

The man, after all, took a $500,000 contribution from a member of the state board for hospital oversight, one Richard Scrushy, CEO of HealthSouth.

But wait. The half-million bucks didn’t go to Siegelman, after all. The money was contributed by Scrushy instead to help underwrite a campaign to convince the voters of Alabama to vote in favor of a state lottery, the proceeds of which would provide funds for Alabama youth to attend state colleges for free.

The referendum was controversial in that owners of the Indian casinos next door in Mississippi were somewhat skittish about Alabamans spending their gambling money at home to fund, of all things, education—not to mention that free college sounds a bit socialistic.

Suddenly, major players entered the picture—players like Karl Rove and notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who would soon face his own legal problems. No matter. Abramoff led the fight, pouring money into the campaign to oppose the referendum which ultimately lost.

And what did Scrushy get in return? Siegelman reappointed him to the Certificates of Need Review Board where he had been serving without pay for the previous 12 years.

The prosecution of Siegelman has been heavily criticized by legal experts and columnists across the nation. https://madmimi.com/p/940b05?fe=1&pact=23974859063

Even the award-winning CBS news magazine 60 Minutes weighed in on the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-ex-alabama-governor-get-a-raw-deal/

Siegelman, a Democrat with Jewish and Catholic roots, had won every state office in Alabama by 1998, including attorney general and lieutenant governor. In 2002, having already served one term as governor, he was heavily favored to win election over incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, the man who had defeated him four years earlier. But then the state’s top Republican operative, Bill Canary, contacted the nation’s top Republican operative, Rove, and the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman—led by Canary’s wife, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary—was launched.

With rumors swirling about alleged wrongdoing, Siegelman suddenly found himself in a tight race with Riley. On election night, Siegelman went to bed after having been declared the winner only to awake the next morning with Riley claiming victory.

Overnight, an unexpected redistribution of gubernatorial votes in Baldwin County, which includes the city of Daphne and part of Mobile Bay, reduced Siegelman’s total votes by 3,000, giving Republican Riley the governorship. Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor denied a recount of the paper ballots. No votes for any of the other offices being contested were changed. (Can you say hanging chads?)

And who was running Riley’s re-election campaign? That would be Bill Canary, husband of federal prosecutor Leura Canary. Well, no conflict of interest there.

Canary’s first efforts, carried out by assistant U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, were unsuccessful. Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon threw out the indictment for lack of evidence, saying the prosecution “was completely without legal merit” and “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career.”

Canary was successful on her second try, however, obtaining a conviction on one of the 23 counts on which Siegelman was indicted. Presiding over that trial was Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who omitted a key legal requirement when giving the jury its instructions before it retired to deliberate: the need for an explicit promise of understanding in accepting the $500,000 from Scrushy.

Fuller, an appointee of President George W. Bush, would later have his own legal problems as well. In August of this year, he was arrested for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/federal_judge_mark_fuller_a_ti.html but unlike Siegelman, was able to get the record expunged. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/don-siegelman-trial-judge-weasels-out

So what has all this to with the price of eggs in Louisiana?

Well, we just thought it would be interesting to compare the single transgression that got Siegelman a ticket to Oakdale with certain activities in Louisiana—and to ask somewhat rhetorically why no investigative agency is taking a closer look at some of the tactics of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Take, for example, the case of Richard Blossman, Jr., of Lacombe and his Central Progressive Bank.

Blossman, while CEO of Central Progressive, “gave” each of his 11 board members a $5,000 bonus. The reality is (to borrow a favorite Jindal phrase), however, none of the $5,000 bonus payments ever went to the board members, according to Raphael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission. Instead, immediately after the bonuses were “announced” by Blossman, 11 individual checks of $5,000 each were sent to Jindal’s 2007 campaign in the names of the individual—and oblivious—board members.

“The defendant (Blossman) well knew the ‘bonus’ was to funnel illegal political contributions and was not a bonus, as he caused to be inscribed in the board minutes,” prosecutors said in June of 2012.

“That is a felony,” Goyeneche added.

This revelation came on the heels of word from the Louisiana Board of Ethics in May of 2012 that Jindal received $40,000 in campaign contributions from landfill company River Birch, Inc. of Metairie when the company formed six “straw man entities” to launder illegal donations to Jindal.

So, did Jindal’s campaign return the $95,000 in ill-gotten gains?

Well….no. “We accept every contribution in good faith and in accordance with the law,” said Timmy Teepell, who ran Jindal’s 2007 campaign. Asked if Blossman received anything in exchange for his contributions, Teepell sniffed, “Absolutely not. Everyone who donates to our campaign gets the same thing and that is good government.”

Wow. Perhaps Earl Long was correct when he once said, One of these days, the folks in Louisiana will get good government “and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Jindal’s campaign and his Believe in Louisiana organization also accepted $158,500 in contributions from Iowa, LA., businessman Lee Mallet, his family members and several of his companies. Jindal then appointed Mallett, a college dropout, to the LSU Board of Supervisors and also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

ATS LETTER

No quid pro quo there, right?

Mallett and his son were major contributors to other Republican candidates and the National Republican Party as well.

Carl Shetler of Lake Charles also received an appointment from Jindal—to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors—after contributing $42,000 to Jindal’s campaign. Shetler, a Lake Charles car dealer, some years before had singlehandedly gotten McNeese State University placed on athletic probation by the NCAA when it was learned that he’d paid money to McNeese basketball players.

In fact, Jindal’s campaign received $1.8 million in contributions from people he has appointed to state boards and commissions, some of whom delivered their checks only days or weeks after their appointments, according to Nola.com. Virtually the entire memberships of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Commission) and the LSU Board of Supervisors are comprised of major contributors to Jindal political campaigns.

In 2008, Jindal accepted $30,000 from Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, his law firm and his wife. Rothstein was later disbarred after his conviction for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in Florida history.

Jindal also accepted $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration.

Jindal took $11,000 from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA). The LHBPA board president, Sean Alfortish, was subsequently sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

And then there is Tony Rudy.

Rudy once headed up an influence-peddling organization called the Alexander Strategy Group and through that firm, he pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in the 2004 and 2005 election cycles on behalf of Jindal from such donors as UPS, Eli Lilly, Bellsouth, R.J. Reynolds, Microsoft, Fannie Mae, Koch Industries, DuPont, AstraZeneca (a biopharmaceutical company), the National Auto Dealers Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, the American Bankers Association, and Amgen (biotechnology and pharmaceutical company).

Alexander Strategy Group was one of Washington’s premier lobbying operations before it was shut down in January of 2006 after its ties to DeLay and Abramoff, became known.

Rudy, a former aide to DeLay, worked for Abramoff before joining Alexander Strategy Group. Rudy’s wife also ran a political consulting firm that received $50,000 in exchange for services Rudy performed while working for DeLay. Delay was indicted in 2005 on money-laundering charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty in early January of 2006 to fraud and conspiracy charges.

One of Abramoff’s clients was the Chitimacha Indian Tribe of Louisiana that contributed at least $1,000 to Jindal who since has claimed to have given that money to charity.

Abramoff also received $32 million from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to help promote and protect their gambling interests. The legal counsel for the Coushattas was one Jimmy Faircloth who once served as Jindal’s executive counsel and who has pulled in well over $1 million in representing Jindal in lost causes in various courts in Louisiana. Faircloth advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales.

And most recently, courtesy of Manuel Torres of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Lee Zurik of WVUE-TV in New Orleans, we have learned that Jindal has spent more than $152,000 of state campaign funds on trips that bear a suspicious resemblance to federal campaign activity. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/louisiana_gov_bobby_jindals_tr.html

State Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the state’s campaign finance law grants considerable latitude as to how money may be spent but that the law prohibits the expenditure of funds on the office of president or vice president of the U.S. and Congress, presidential electors and party offices.

“When I read these provisions together, the conclusion is that you are a candidate for a state race and the money you raise can be used only for (a state) campaign or for exercise of that office,” Allen told Torres and Zurik.

There are other activities of the Jindal administration which have little to do with campaign contributions or appointments but which are nonetheless are questionable as to their motives:

  • Efforts to enhance State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by as much as $55,000 per year. Because of our story, that unconstitutional attempt by our governor and his allies in the State Senate and the Department of Public Safety was thwarted.
  • Major pay increases given unclassified employees in the Jindal administration at the same time rank and file state employees have been denied raises for five years.
  • Generous tax incentives, exemptions and other favorable treatment given corporations that are costing the state some $3 billion per year even as repeal of the Stelly plan has cost the state $300 million per year.
  • Widespread abuses by the State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board.
  • Bruce Greenstein’s initial refusal in testimony before a Senate committee to name the winner of a $200 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals and his eventual admission that the contract went to his former employer—testimony that eventually led to his indictment on nine counts of perjury.
  • Attempts by the Department of Education to enter into a data sharing agreement whereby sensitive personal information on students in the state’s public schools would be made available to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News.
  • Funding sources for Jindal’s political organization Believe in Louisiana—sources who have received major concessions and political appointments from the Jindal administration.
  • The real reason for the firing and indictment of former head of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter: Painter’s refusal to crater to demands from the governor’s office that favored New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaigns (Painter was subsequently acquitted of all charges and the state was forced to pay his legal expenses of some $300,000).
  • Efforts by Jindal to force retirees out of the Group Benefits health program with irresponsibly unaffordable increases in co-pays and deductibles, a story that eventually prompted hearings by the House Appropriations Committee.
  • The subsequent revelation that a document cited by DOA and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) representative as the basis for the health benefits changes in reality said just the opposite of what was testified to.

And while all this goes on unabated in Louisiana, the former governor of Alabama, who did nothing more than accept a contribution to fund a referendum to benefit education, remains in Oakdale, victim of a prosecution with far more questions about the participants and their surreptitious activities than answers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bennett-l-gershman/bribery-cases-_b_1590284.html

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By Guest Columnist Robert Burns

Tom recently posted that Louisiana Sen. Rick Gallot may have used his influence to expedite and circumvent safety standards for a private school.  Another Louisiana Senator, Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) may have well had his son, Brant, utilize his dad’s status to obtain fair and equitable treatment from the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB).  He was fully entitled to such fair and equitable treatment, but it begs the question as to why other Louisiana citizens, especially elderly widow auction victims, are given the shaft.

In early 2012, Brant Thompson allegedly consigned merchandise to auctioneer Bruce Miller.  I use the word “allegedly” because, at a May 6, 2014 hearing, LALB investigator Jim Steele, as evidenced by this 4-second video clip, said, “There’s no indication that Mr. Thompson was a consignor at this auction whatsoever.”  Nobody knows what may have happened to Mr. Thompson’s items, and auctioneer Bruce Miller died of a massive heart attack two days after his last auction.  Mr. Thompson never received a dime for his items, nor did he ever even see his merchandise again.  Understandably, Mr. Thompson got upset and justifiably filed a complaint with the LALB.  Like so many other complainants, Mr. Thompson was frustrated when he received this brief letter from LALB attorney Anna Dow dated 1/16/14 indicating that, because the LALB could not ascertain if a violation had occurred, it was “closing the investigation……No further action will be taken.”

Thompson, like many other aggrieved complainants, wasn’t happy, so he drafted this terse two-page response dated 2/3/14.  He indicated that he “takes exception” to the finding and states that “The system designed to protect me failed.”  He emphasized that he was aware auctioneers carry a bond, and he relayed that he expected that bond to cover his alleged losses.  Mr. Thompson is correct in his assessment that the LALB failed him, but it has done the same for a litany of other complainants.  Mr. Thompson, however, was shrewd enough to copy Ms. Holly Robinson, Gov. Jindal’s then-Heard of Boards and Commissions.  Obviously, Ms. Robinson would be very familiar with the fact Brant is Francis’ son.  What transpired upon Robinson’s receipt of the letter?  Who knows, but we do know this:  in lightening-fast speed, the LALB, in an unprecedented move, not only “reopened” a closed investigation, but it actually conducted a full-blown hearing (on a deceased auctioneer) on 5/6/14.  Remember Mr. Thompson’s goal of collecting on Miller’s bond.  Now, watch this brief one-minute video clip excerpt from the hearing.  Notice how Mr. Thompson is gently guided regarding the bond’s parameters (that it’s for $10,000 and has a 3-year filing period in which the LALB can file for him).  Mr. Thompson, who speaks in a smooth and cavalier manner, is spoken to in turn by LALB members and its attorney in an almost reverent-like manner.  The LALB not only filed the bond for Mr. Thompson, but in breakneck speed, he received a $3,500 check from the bonding company in early October of 2014 even though the company said the itemized list it was provided depicted ordinary household items that were “virtually worthless.”

Let’s contrast Mr. Thompson’s revered status as a Louisiana senator’s son with the tone and attitude taken with complainant Judy Fasola.  In late 2012, Ms. Fasola contracted with notoriously-problematic auctioneer Ken Buhler for the disposition of her terminally-ill, 93-year-old mother’s estate.  Ms. Fasola asserted at her hearing, which was in March of 2013, that Mr. Buhler adamantly refused to place reserves on her marque items and instead, over time, just kept defiantly selling them at pennies on the dollar (Fasola relayed she later learned Buhler sold many marque items to his own mother, mother-in-law, and other Buhler relatives) against her express desire and instructions.  When she threatened an LALB complaint, he finally returned what few items he hadn’t sold in defiance of her instructions, and Fasola relayed he did so in a fit of anger, slamming her items on her floor and breaking most items in the process.  Fasola filed an LALB complaint, and the LALB fined his father, Mac, who is not an auctioneer but was deemed the responsible party for Ken’s company, Estate Auction Services, $500 for “sloppy recordkeeping.”  Due to Ken’s license being revoked from 2005-2010 (due to massive consignor losses), the LALB insisted that Mac oversee all negotiations and communication with customers.  Ken had defied that restriction in negotiating with Ms. Fasola, but she was unaware of the LALB restrictions on Ken’s license.  Ms. Fasola, like Brant, repeatedly asked the LALB to file a bond claim for her, but the LALB has steadfastly refused to do so.  When Ms. Fasola learned of Mr. Thompson’s ease of obtaining a bond payment, she was understandably upset and requested to be heard on the matter at the 11/5/14 meeting to air her frustrations.  Let’s examine, mainly through video excerpts of the meeting, just how she got treated.

Fasola began by giving an introductory statement relaying how she, like Brant, felt the system had failed her, and she asked if she may have been treated more fairly “if I were the daughter of a Louisiana State Senator?”  LALB Vice Chairman James Sims tersely denied any knowledge that Brant was the son of a Louisiana senator until “seven days after the hearing.”  There simply is no way to adequately place in words the hostility shown toward Ms. Fasola (and me, for that matter) at the meeting, so I ask readers’ indulgence in watching a 9-minute video clip of the highlights of Ms. Fasola’s presentation, along with captions wherein Ms. Fasola catches board members, attorneys, and the executive director in one contradiction and falsehood after another (proven by video clips merged into this 9-minute video clip which I strongly encourage readers to watch).  In watching the video, it becomes apparent why I videotape these meetings because these board members flat-out misrepresent what they’ve said and done in prior meetings.

Now, in the above 9-minute video clip, considerable focus was placed on the above-mentioned restrictions on Ken Buhler’s license.  When Estate Auction Services (Mac Buhler) was fined $500 and found guilty in March of 2013, the bonding company immediately canceled its bond.  As mentioned above, Ken, pursuant to the restrictions on his license, was totally dependent upon his dad to remain in business; however, his dad could no longer operate due to lack of a bond.  How did the LALB solve Ken’s problem in that regard?  They simply convened another “hearing” on May 20, 2013 for the sole purpose of removing all restrictions on Ken’s license.  Nevertheless, as evidenced by the video clip, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims kept insisting (incorrectly, on no less that three occasions) that the restrictions were lifted prior to Fasola’s auction.  In reality, the restrictions were lifted after and as a result of Fasola’s auction.  Hence, as Fasola pointed out, Buhler was actually rewarded for his victimizing of her!  Also, although LALB Chairman Tessa Steinkamp literally blew a gasket at the 6:27 mark of the video when Fasola referenced concerns for her personal safety when dealing with Ken Buhler, Ms. Fasola had genuine reason for concern.  Even as she was dealing with him, he was arrested and criminally charged for domestic abuse against his wife (the latest court date is Monday, 11/10/14).  Additionally, Mr. Buhler was also found to have civil liability for the fraudulent use of interstate commerce instrumentalities in Federal Court in mid-2011.  The LALB was notified of that fact, but they were completely indifferent to the fact it transpired, notwithstanding the fact that his liability entailed securities fraud directly related to his auction business.

As evidenced by the preceding video clip, the LALB basically continued to tell Ms. Fasola to “go to hell” regarding its filing her bond claim for her.  Quite a contrast to the reverent tone taken with Brant Thompson, son of State Sen. Francis Thompson, huh?  What’s alarming is the sheer number of elderly victims of auctioneers.  Let me provide the following table of four such instances that readily come to mind:

Auction Victim’s Name Reason for Auction Auctioneer and Appx. Date
Ms. Linda Williams Liquidating 91-year-old mother’s belongings days before her death.  Click here to listen to an impassioned plea by Ms. Williams for the LALB to NOT reinstate Ken Buhler’s license in 2010. Ken Buhler. Months prior to his auction license being revoked in 2005.
Mr. David Swift Liquidating the belongings of his 80-something father soon after his death. Gary & Randy Hayes (business applicants like Mac Buhler), two guys who, to their credit, told the LALB at their 1/14 hearing, “We never should have been granted a license.”   They went on to relay they’d lost over $100,000 of their retirement savings and would NEVER be in the auction business again.
Ms. Judy Fasola Liquidating 93-year-old terminally-ill mother’s belongings months before her imminent death. Ken Buhler. September, 2012.
Ms. Betty Story Liquidating her belongings (and two homes) in order to move into an assisted living facility in Alexandria, LA.  LA Voice readers may recall this 9/27/14 post on what a disaster her auction was.  I’m happy to report that Ms. Story, serving as a pro se litigant (at 84 years old!!), scored a major victory in 36th JDC on 10/29/14 when Judge Martha O’Neal stopped the trial after Ms. Story presented only her second witness, with Judge O’Neal saying, “I’ve heard all I need to hear.”  When auctioneer Schmidt asked if he’d be permitted to put on his defense and call witnesses, O’Neal said, “Yes, but you’re not going to be able to undo the damage you’ve already done on this witness stand in answering my questions,” (Story had him on the witness stand under direct examination).  Click here if you’d like to watch a post-trial interview with Ms. Story.  Her LALB litigation remains ongoing. Marlo Schmidt. November   17, 2012.

 

I recently made a public records request of the LALB seeking all bond claims it has ever filed.  They could produce only two:  Mr. Thompson and Mr. Swift.  It’s interesting to note that these two claims were likely filed (beyond Thompson’s status as a Louisiana Senator’s son) because there would be no auctioneer pushback in either case.  Mr. Miller is dead, so he won’t get upset.  Gary and Randy Hayes, as evidenced by the brief video clip above, readily stated they’ll never be in the auction business again (hence no pushback from them).  In sharp contrast, Ken Buhler and Marlo Schmidt are active auctioneers who would be very upset with LALB members if claims were filed against their bonds!

I’d like to conclude this Louisiana Voice post by expressing gratitude to Tom because I’ve presented the above cases to MSM outlets in Baton Rouge.  While an Advocate reporter has expressed strong interest in publishing LALB elderly victimizations, his editors have said, “It’s a small board and nobody will read the article.”  Further, 13 months ago, Ms. Linda Williams, the first victim listed above, suggested that I contact Chris Nakamoto of Channel 2 here in Baton Rouge.  I still maintain a computer folder of numerous emails back-and-forth between Mr. Nakamoto and myself regarding a television investigative report on elderly abuse by auctioneers.  He did qualify any such potential report, however, with the fact that, like the Advocate reporter, his editors too had to give the “thumbs up.”  All I can tell Louisiana Voice readers is that, days prior to New Year’s Day of 2014, Mr. Nakamoto ceased all communication with me without even so much as a courtesy explanation of why he’d gone from responding to my emails within hours (often minutes) to suddenly no response at all.

In closing, if you or anyone you know is considering hiring an auctioneer, you owe it to yourself to visit Consumer Option # 2 on LAPA’s website, which is an alphabetical index of auctioneer issues since LAPA’s archive began in 2010 and also Consumer Option # 3 on LAPA’s website, which is guidance on conducting auctioneer due diligence.  If it’s not conducted, the results, as illustrated above, can be devastating.

Lastly, anyone knowing of an elderly person (or the caretaker of such an individual) who is considering hiring an auctioneer, please bookmark this post and forward it to them.  Why?  Because auctioneers exist out there who view such elderly prospective clients just like lambs headed for slaughter.

Regrettably, we have a Governor and his LALB appointees who are only too happy to help with hoisting the guillotine.

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Two legislative committees charged with oversight of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) are expected to demand that OGB roll back dramatic increases in health care co-payments and deductibles the agency is attempting to impose on hundreds of thousands of state employees to make up for the Jindal administration’s mismanagement of the agency when they meet in tandem on Friday.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday but will not take testimony from the public.

The two committees are expected to instruct Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West to slash the increases in deductibles—some couples’ deductibles increased from $300 to $3,000 under the new plan being proposed by OGB–and co-pays.

OGB has already announced a two-month delay in the implementation of steep increases in prescription drug costs and will refund about $4.5 million in overcharges to state employees.

The Jindal administration is attempting to impose the co-pay and deductible increases as a way to recover hundreds of millions of dollars the administration managed to squander as a cost-savings to the state’s own contributions to employees’ premiums as a means to cover huge gaps in Jindal’s state budget.

The entire scenario reads like the script from an old I Love Lucy sitcom as everything the administration had done with OGB has blown up in its face in an improbable comedy of errors. How more insulting to legislators could it get than for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to provide false testimony to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Sept. 25 shortly before abruptly leaving the JLCB meeting to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans?

When asked point blank by State Rep. John Bel Edwards at that Sept. 25 hearing–before heading out to the Smoothie King Arena to settle into the governor’s luxury box seats for the concert—which actuary recommended that OGB reduce premiums by nearly 9 percent, she testified that Buck Consultants made the recommendation.

But Buck reportedly responded by email within days that it never made any such recommendation and that Nichols’ testimony was in direct contradiction to its recommendations.

A July report from Buck reinforces its claim that it never made any such recommendation. “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013,” the report says.

When witnesses sign cards prior to speaking before a legislative committee, they are certifying that they understand that their testimony is considered as being given under oath.

Edwards also asked at the hearing that Nichols or West provide him with a copy of that recommendation but he said on Wednesday (Nov. 5) that he still had not received that information. “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” he told LouisianaVoice. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

If someone were to set out to demonstrate how incompetent an administration could be, he would be hard pressed to find a better example than the manner in which it has handled the Office of Group Benefits—from firing an effective CEO who built up a $500 million reserve fund in favor of a revolving door approach to subsequent CEOs, to firing experience claims handlers with whom OGB members were comfortable, to hiring a California firm with no knowledge of Louisiana’s medical coverage program to handle telephone inquiries because experienced OGB staff were also fired, to attempting to implement emergency rules to enact the cost increases in co-pays and deductibles without the legally required public hearings, to having to refund $4.5 million in prescription drug overcharges for the same violation of the emergency rules procedures, to first claiming that it was not necessary to invoke the emergency rule and then deciding to do just that, to lying to legislators about actuarial recommendations of premium reductions.

The FUBARs and SNAFUs of OGB are so many and so irreversible that they should give pause to anyone who would entertain even the fleeting notion that Gov. Bobby Jindal is capable of leading the free world when, through his inept surrogates, he has, in less than two years, destroyed a relatively small but viable, efficient state agency.

Jindal and Nichols, of course, have a ready explanation for the OGB financial woes: medical costs have risen and it’s all Obamacare’s fault—never Jindal’s.

It’s the same arrogance level as that was demonstrated by Nichols in another appearance before a legislative committee when, trying to explain budget figures, she said somewhat condescendingly, “Let me dumb it down for you.”

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LouisianaVoice has obtained a copy of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s letter to Susan West, CEO of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) in which he threatened to initiate legal action to prevent the destruction of documents by OGB.

OGB, meanwhile, says it has “ceased destruction” of all records subsequent to the Sept. 3 receipt of Schedler’s letter.

Schedler took the action after he learned that some original claim records “may have been destroyed” by OGB without following proper established procedures for doing so.

LouisianaVoice has learned that Liz Murrill, formerly the executive counsel for the Division of Administration which has jurisdiction over OGB, was terminated after she refused to sign off on the order for the records destruction.

Schedler’s letter of Oct. 17 also accused OGB of failing to provide a status and location of original claim records subject to his request of Sept. 30. He said the agency was required to provide a written response by Oct. 6, but failed to do so.

That would be consistent with DOA’s practice of delay, delay, delay and sometimes deny in response to requests for public records. LouisianaVoice has made frequent requests for records only to see compliance by DOA occur at a snail’s pace, if at all. The standard response to such requests is that DOA is searching for the records and will review them for “exemptions and privileges.” Here is a typical response to one of our requests—made on Sept. 30, 2014:

From: DOAPUBLICRECORDS [mailto:DOAPUBLICRECORDS] Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 11:36 AM To: ‘azspeak@cox.net’ Subject: Public Records Request re OGB

Pursuant to your public records request, we are still searching for records and/or reviewing them for exemptions and privileges. Once finished with the review process, all non-exempt records will be made available to you.

That’s a full month, as of today, and still no records.

“The Office of Group Benefits operates under a binding retention schedule that requires all health claims to be kept for the life of the agency and to be imaged upon arrival,” Schedler’s letter says. “The schedule also provides that, after three years, original claim records may be microfilmed and shredded—but the records may only be shredded after receiving written approval from Carrie Fager Martin, the Records Management Officer Statewide.

Schedler said he “has reason to believe” that some records may have been destroyed “without prior approval and in direct violation” of Louisiana statutes and OGB’s own retention schedule. “When actual, impending, or threatened destruction of records comes to the attention of the Secretary of State’s Office, I am bound by law to initiate action through the attorney general to protect or recover the affected records, or to pursue any other redress provided by law,” he wrote.

“Please be advised that your failure to respond to my Sept. 30 inquiry on the status of original claim records now requires me to inform the attorney general of their potential destruction and (to) initiate action through his office to protect any records that may have been destroyed in violation of OGB’s retention schedule.”

Bill Guerra, Interim Chief Operating Officer for OGB, responded to Schedler’s letter, also on Oct. 17, saying, “We are in compliance with your request. We have ceased destruction of original claims records effective upon the Sept. 3 receipt of your Aug. 28 correspondence.

Guerra said and further questions should be directed to either him or West.

Click here to see both letters:

DOCUMENT LETTERS

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The controversy surrounding the sweeping changes being proposed for the Office of Group Benefits just got a little dicier with new information obtained by LouisianaVoice about the departure of Division of Administration executive counsel Liz Murrill and the possibly illegal destruction of public records from the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the involvement of at least two other state agencies.

While it was not immediately clear which OGB records were involved, information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Murrill refused to sign off on written authorization to destroy documents from OGB.

We first reported her departure on Oct. 14 and then on Oct. 22, we followed up with a report that Murrill had confided to associates that she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

But now we learn that the issue has spilled over into two other agencies besides OGB and DOA because of a state statute dealing with the retention of public documents for eventual delivery to State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.

Reports indicate that Schedler became furious when he learned of the destruction or planned destruction of the records because records should, according to R.S. 44:36, be retained for three years and then delivered to the state archivist and director of the division of Archives, records management and history. https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=99704

Schedler reportedly became so upset with the decision to destroy the records that he copied Attorney General Buddy Caldwell with a letter he wrote to Nichols directing that DOA comply with the statute but Caldwell for his part, refused to intervene, saying he did not want to become involved.

If that indeed is the case, then LouisianaVoice goes on record here and now as contending that Caldwell is unfit to serve in that capacity and should resign immediately.

We made every effort to allow Caldwell to respond. We called his office and asked to speak to Buddy Caldwell or his son, Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell. We were told, “We don’t put calls through to them; we take a message and they may call you back.” They never did. We also spoke with AG Press Secretary Laure Gerdes and explained the story we were working on and told her if we did not hear back from Caldwell, we would suggest that he was unfit to serve as AG. Again, we never heard back from either Caldwell.

The attorney general simply cannot cherry pick which laws he feels should be enforced and to allow the destruction of vital public documents, particularly at a time when so much raw emotion has erupted over changes to the OGB benefit structure. To sit idly back and allow the administration to flout the law in the faces of 230,000 OGB members, retirees and beneficiaries is unconscionable and if Caldwell allows such action without at least advising DOA of the consequences he is not worthy of calling himself a public servant. He should take his Elvis impersonation act back to Tallulah.

And if Caldwell is reluctant to give legal advice to DOA, then Hillar Moore, as District Attorney for the 19th Judicial District, has all the statutory authority required to prosecute state officials should he ever decide to exercise that authority. The state government, after all, is domiciled in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Too much is at stake and those records could hold the key to the motives behind the administration’s decision to dramatically increase co-pays and deductibles. LouisianaVoice made requests for certain OGB records on Oct. 14 and those records have yet to be produced by DOA. We have no way of knowing if the records we requested are part of those documents which were ordered destroyed but if so, we plan to initiate legal action against the state promptly.

DOA has been habitually reluctant to produce public records at our request in a timely manner and this action could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Without the support and backing of the state’s highest legal authority, we are powerless to force compliance other than through the courts.

But the question that should be uppermost in the minds of Louisiana’s citizens is this: If those records were important enough to fire an attorney over her refusal to sign off on their destruction or for that attorney to place her career in jeopardy over that same issue, we are more curious than ever to know the contents of those documents—and we have the right to know.

And even more significant in this entire affair, if Liz Murrill did in fact refuse to compromise herself and her reputation by refusing to sign off on an illegal act, then we can only say good for her! She has shown far more integrity than our attorney general.

 

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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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