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Archive for the ‘Teague’ Category

By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Troy Hebert strikes again. http://www.atc.rev.state.la.us/commissioner.php

The controversial head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), who already has racial discrimination lawsuits pending against him after settling similar claims, has fired a veteran ATC agent while the agent was recovering from a heart attack after first having failed to do so while he was on active duty in the Coast Guard Reserve.

Hebert fired agent Brette Tingle of Prairieville by letter dated Feb. 9 which was hand delivered to Tingle’s home where he was convalescing from a heart attack.

Hebert took the action based on accusations of payroll fraud and misuse of federal grant funds after three investigations by two separate state investigative agencies cleared Tingle of any wrongdoing—and after Tingle, who is white, testified on behalf of three black ATC agents who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Hebert. Tingle said Hebert told him, “I’m going to f**k with Charles (Gilmore) first, then with Larry Hingle” in an effort to force them to leave the agency. Gilmore and Hingle are two of the three black agents who have filed suit against Hebert and ATC.

Tingle’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge, in an 11-page letter, has appealed the firing, accusing Hebert of “agency shopping” in his attempt to build evidence against Tingle in retaliation for his testimony in support of his fired colleagues.

Hebert’s tenure since being appointed by Bobby Jindal in November of 2010 has been tumultuous at best and disruptive to the entire agency, according to several agents who have talked privately—and publicly—with LouisianaVoice.

One of the most absurd rules put in place by Hebert was one which requires agents to spring to their feet and offer a verbal “good morning, Commissioner” whenever Hebert entered a room where agents were gathered.

Another order which conceivably could have placed an agent’s life in danger was his instruction to an agent who had been working undercover in bars in New Orleans in efforts to buy illegal drugs from dealers to cease undercover activities and to return to patrolling those same bars in full uniform.

Hebert’s accusations of payroll fraud stem from a GPS tracking system installed on ATC vehicles which Hebert said showed Tingle’s vehicle was at his home during hours he said he was working.

In leveling that accusation against his former agent, Hebert ignored that fact that Tingle often worked undercover in tandem with other law enforcement agencies, including the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the New Orleans office of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Together, they would conduct regular alcohol and tobacco compliance checks and it was commonplace for one of the agents to leave his state vehicle behind while conducting checks since using the state vehicle would defeat the purpose of undercover work.

When Hebert’s office was found out of compliance and ineligible for more than $100,000 in grant money from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Hebert laid the blame at Tingle’s feet even though the ATC compliance officer was Louis Thompson and not Tingle, attorney Smith said, adding that Thompson had been in charge of compliance for ATC for the entire 10 years that Tingle served as part of the DEA task force.

“These allegations are your third attempt to defame, intimidate and retaliate against Mr. Tingle,” Smith said, “because he has assisted and participated in the investigation and proceedings in connection with the EEOC charge and subsequent litigation in the case of Charles Gilmore.”

Gilmore is one of the black agents who has filed a federal lawsuit against Hebert and ATC.

Coincidentally, when the Jindal administration decided to go after former ATC Director Murphy Painter, the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR), which is over ATC, immediately launched its own investigation of Painter and federal charges of malfeasance were brought against him. He was subsequently acquitted and then won his own civil defamation suit against his accusers.

It was first shown by LouisianaVoice and later in his trial that the charges against Painter were retaliatory in nature and initiated by the Jindal administration after a dispute over his refusal to issue a permit to Budweiser to erect a tent at Champions Square across from the Louisiana Superdome. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/06/emerging-claims-lawsuits-could-transform-murphy-painter-from-predator-to-all-too-familiar-victim-of-jindal-reprisals/

Oddly, LDR, which has known of the Gilmore allegations since October of 2012, has yet to interview anyone about Gilmore’s claims or to initiate an investigation into the charges.

In his letter, Smith said the first attempt to bring charges against Tingle “was initiated when you (Hebert) employed (Baton Rouge law firm) Shows, Cali & Walsh to draft documentation based on one-sided and uncorroborated information. This purported ‘legal opinion’ was found to be unreliable by the Office of Inspector General (OIG).”

No surprise there. Shows, Cali & Walsh, which held 16 contracts worth a combined $3 million, skated perilously close to sanctions last year over evidence manipulation in the case of overheating on death row cells at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/03/baton-rouge-law-firm-with-3-million-in-state-contracts-faces-legal-sanctions-over-evidence-manipulation-in-angola-lawsuit/

“Your second attempt,” Smith continued, “was initiated in 2013-2014 when you sent a complaint to the OIG alleging that (Tingle’s actions) constituted a criminal mater.

“…OIG conducted an extensive investigation …and determined that your allegations were not accurate enough to be utilized in making a case of payroll fraud.”

Bear in mind here that Hebert is head of a law enforcement agency for the State of Louisiana and apparently does not have the capability of building a criminal case or even knowing what constitutes criminal activity.

Not that he hasn’t tried.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence supplied to you by the OIG, …you continued your campaign to defame, intimidate, and retaliate against Mr. Tingle by appealing to … the Louisiana Department of Public Safety (State Police),” Smith wrote.

“You again asserted your professed belief that your alleged facts rise to the level of a crime and you were again informed that your purported facts did not rise to the level of being sufficient to be utilized in a court of law.

“The practice of appealing to multiple investigatory agencies in search of an investigation that supported your ulterior purpose is known in law enforcement as ‘agency shopping’ and is improper,” he wrote.

Smith said that Hebert launched his first investigation into Tingle during the time when Tingle was on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and that following a year-long OIG investigation, Tingle and Hebert were informed by letter that indicated no charges would be brought against Tingle.

Even as Hebert was telling Tingle that he intended to get rid of two black supervisors, including Larry Hingle, he was also instructing Hingle to investigate Tingle and Hebert later told Hingle to also investigate Tingle’s wife, also an ATC employee who had recently retired.

Hingle joined Gilmore and a third black ATC agent, Daimian McDowell in filing a federal lawsuit against Hebert, ATC and LDR on Oct. 2, 2012, and Tingle was listed as a friendly witness for the plaintiffs.

More details of the events in Hebert’s office will be forthcoming in a subsequent installment this weekend. Space simply does not allow this full story to be told in a single post.

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ANOTHER CLASSIC

 (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again; this guy, whoever he is, is a satirical genius. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but we’ll go out on a limb and declare him on a par with Will Rogers and Mark Twain.

We have also said we wish we knew his identity so we could give him proper credit but we are fairly certain this is a state employee and to do so would result in his/her instant teaguing.

Regardless, the people of this state are indebted to this artist for demonstrating how the top players in this administration have completely and consistently jindaled things up.

It’s not the artwork, which consists of a few computerized re-creations of stock photo images of the characters, that provides the humor. In fact, many of the images appear repeatedly throughout the collection of brilliant strips.

The key to this series is in the way the cartoonist uses dialog to capture the absurd buffoonery that currently permeates the entire fourth floor of the Louisiana State Capitol in lieu of any sound political and economic philosophy.

Why, we would not be at all surprised to learn that he works in the Division of Administration—right under Kristy Nichols’ nose.

Nah. That would be just too perfect.

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  • 676,484: the number of votes received by candidate Bobby Jindal in the 2003 runoff with Kathleen Blanco for the office of Governor. I was one of the 676,484. Jindal lost.
  • 699,275: the number of votes received by Congressman Bobby Jindal in the 2007 primary election for Governor of Louisiana. I was one of the 699,275. Jindal won.
  • 673,239: the number of votes received by incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal in his successful bid for re-election in the 2011 primary election. I was not one of the 673,239. Jindal won.
  • Betray:·trā/ v. to fail or desert especially in time of need; to disappoint the hopes or expectations of; be disloyal to; to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling, as in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to perform the job to which he was elected.
  • Betrayal: be·tray′al n. to abandon or desert; to turn one’s back on another; to delude or take advantage of; One who abandons his convictions or affiliations—as in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s betrayal of the 4.5 million residents of Louisiana.
  • Epitaph: ˈepə·taf/ n. a commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument about the person buried at that site; a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person campaign or something past—as in the political ambitions of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Some may think it’s too early to bury Jindal’s presidential ambitions just yet, but it is our humble opinion that Roy Orbison summed it up more than 50 years ago with his 1964 hit It’s Over.

What little spark that still burned in his fading presidential hopes has been snuffed out by a fast-paced series of events beginning with his incredibly idiotic rant about the Islamic no-go zones in Europe which then morphed into a tirade by Jindal shill Kyle Plotkin over the tint or lack of, in Jindal’s “official” portrait hanging in the reception area of the governor’s office on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.

Whether or not blogger Lamar White’s comment about Jindal’s “white-out” of his portrait which (a) makes him appear almost anemic or (b) makes him appear as if the anemic version caught a little too much sun at Gulf Shores (depending on which is the “official” portrait), the entire episode quickly descended to the level of ridiculous political theater.

And when the dialogue is reduced to arguments over the shade of color in a portrait Jindal has run out of issues for serious public debate and can no longer be taken seriously.

As a great singer, the late Roy Orbison, crooned back in 1964, It’s over.

And as our favorite writer, Billy Wayne Shakespeare from Denham on Amite would say (with certain literary license):

Not that I loved Caesar Jindal less, but that I loved Rome Louisiana more. Had you rather Caesar lived Jindal were President and (we) die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead Jindal were forgotten, to live all free men?”

—Brutus Bob, from Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II.

“I have come here to bury Caesar Jindal, not to praise him. The evil that men do is remembered after their deaths, but the good is often buried with them difficult to find. It might as well be the same with Caesar Jindal. The noble Brutus Bob told you that Caesar Jindal was ambitious. If that’s true, it’s a serious fault, and Caesar Louisiana has paid seriously for it.”

—Marc “T-Boy” Antony, from Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II

If  there was any lingering doubt, that was erased late Friday (notice the timing) when he released a laundry list of yet another round of budget cuts. As has become his practice, all bad news is announced late on Fridays so the impact will be lessened because people tend not to follow the news on weekends.

Among those cuts:

  • Department of Environmental Quality: $2.5 million;
  • Department of Health and Hospitals: $13 million;
  • Department of Transportation and Development: $16.65 million.

Jindal also some miraculously came up with $42.8 by sweeping several agencies, including $9 million from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly.

The governor’s office was not spared, of course. Biting the bullet along with everyone else, Jindal’s plan included a reduction of $10,000 in travel expenses for his office.

That’s correct. Health care is taking a $13 million hit while Jindal is sacrificing roughly the cost of one trip to appear on Fox News or to Washington D.C. for something like his recent attack on Common Core at an event sponsored by someone like oh, say the American Principles Project.

He is pulling $9 million from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly but don’t worry, he will forego a trip to Iowa or New Hampshire.  Yeah, yeah, we know trips to Iowa and New Hampshire are paid out of his campaign fund. But when he takes those political trips, he takes along a detail of state police security personnel whose transportation, lodging, meals and overtime must be borne by the state treasury. It doesn’t take long for just one of those trips to eat through $10,000.

If Jindal is not acutely aware by now that any chance he had to be president has vanished into that $1.6 billion deficit projected for the coming year—a far cry from the $900 million surplus he inherited when he took office seven years ago.

If he does not know by now that his political credentials are shot, he can compare today’s 6.7 percent unemployment rate to the 3.8 percent unemployment when he took office in 2008. That wasn’t supposed to happen after industrial tax incentives increased from a couple hundred million a year to more than $1 billion a year over that same period.

If he is still wondering why his approval rating is lower than President Obama’s, he may want to direct his inquiry to the presidents of Louisiana’s colleges and universities who have seen their budgets cut by $673 million since taking office—and who are now anticipating another $300 million in cuts.

If he still doesn’t get it, he could ask the 250,000 low-income uninsured adults how they could possibly be upset at his decision not to expand Medicaid to cover their health care—all because of his philosophical criticism of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare. And while he’s at it, he might wish to ask Baton Rouge’s low-income uninsured residents in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish how they’re going to make out after he closed Earl K. Long Hospital last year which forced those residents to seek emergency care at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City which announced this past week that it is closing its emergency room because of the financial losses incurred from that overflow from Earl K. Long.

Michael Hiltzik, writing for the Los Angeles Times on Friday (Feb. 6), to say, “Jindal has promoted his plan with a string of distortions about the ACA and the health insurance marketplace that suggest, at best, that he has no idea what he’s talking about.” http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-the-lesson-of-louisiana-20150206-column.html

And if Jindal is still a bit hazy about why his chances of becoming president could make a possum optimistic about making it across a busy interstate highway, he might wish to review his glowing optimism over the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) that preceded a drawdown of the agency’s reserve fund from a healthy $500 million built up by former OGB CEO Tommy Teague, whom Jindal fired, to less than half that amount.

After he’s done all that, then maybe he’ll finally understand why Louisiana’s middle income growth was sixth worst in the nation (-4.9 percent, as in a negative growth) in 2013. Maybe, just maybe, it will finally dawn on him that the widening income gap is not good news for the state’s poorest citizens. Perhaps someone will explain to him that the state’s poorest 20 percent of households averaged earning $8,851 in 2013 (that’s household income, not per capita). There may even be a chance that he can explain why the income share of 2.8 percent among the state’s 20 percent poorest was down from 3.2 percent share in 2009 while the wealthiest 20 percent held nearly 52 percent of the state’s income—a figure even higher than the national figure and a dramatic increase from 2009—even as the state’s poverty rate increased.

We’ve been beating this drum steadily for nearly five years now and just when we were beginning to believe no one was listening, no less than three national news organizations (the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Politico) have jumped into the fray with witheringly harsh stories critical of Jindal and his train wreck of an administration in Louisiana.

And to think, it took an incredibly silly diatribe about Islam in London and a prayer meeting in Baton Rouge sponsored by a fundamentalist fringe element to get the attention of the national media that decided, at long last, it might be time to peel back the layers of righteousness and morality and take a long, hard look at the real Jindal and his actual record.

Funny, isn’t it, how often the big picture is overlooked until someone stumbles onto some little something that sets much bigger events into motion?

And now, at long last, we feel we can safely say it’s over. Done. Kaput. We have witnessed, in the incredibly short span of only a couple of weeks, the complete cratering of a political quest.

Cue Roy Orbison. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufgrNRPFJn8&list=RDufgrNRPFJn8#t=0

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           As 2014 winds down, we decided that everyone else does a year-end wrap-up of the year’s significant events, so why not us?

            Accordingly, here is our review of the first six months of LouisianaVoice installments. The last six months will appear on Wednesday (Dec. 31).

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

A company holding two contracts with the State of Louisiana worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rolled out late last year.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI executives have been involved with at least 20 other troubled government IT projects, including one contract to automate retirements for millions of federal employees that went $60 million over budget and despite $2.3 billion in contracts with two dozen federal agencies, the company was rejected by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of “performance issues” in carrying out an earlier contract.

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims.

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

HGI contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

Jindal also awarded a four-month contract to Alvarez & Marsal for a tad more than $5 million that called for the firm to deliver $500 million in savings to the state.

A & M’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal. In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the consulting firm.

The resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

Then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find a $500,000 savings.

Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the first 51 pages of a 2009 report calling for the privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. Alvarez & Marsal performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30.

The firm also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken.

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are out at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) filed Senate Bill 79 which was designed to give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks.

The bill was a counteroffensive to attempts by the east bank authority to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) was attempting to force the oil and gas companies to pay for the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s bill should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

One consideration could be that he has owned pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee. The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers in the apparent hope that some of their Americans for Prosperity (AFP) money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills.

That trust fund shrank from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration found itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that sucked up $365,000 just for the state’s 21 percent share of attorney fees.

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy.”

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

A photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

CSC customers, meanwhile, were being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA.

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and Cyber Research Park are nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

The controversy over that 55,000 hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.

The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The LA. 127 project ends at the camp entrance and at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp.

A search of political campaign contributions show that camp owner Bill Busbice and his wife, Beth each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.

Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s may business entities.

Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.

Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.

Appel’s shrewd investments:

State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock in 2010 a week before a major announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Capitol News Service has learned.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

Appel is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) but also of the company’s recent agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

Appel’s financial disclosure form obtained from the State Board of Ethics indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was for “between $5,000 and $24,999.”

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and on the day’s following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s on-paper profit after a little more than three years was in excess of 100 percent. The stock closed on March 27 at $75.72, still an 85 percent gain for Appel.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session.

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after a major push by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says. Robert Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 for each report. That represents an income of more than $374,000 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo.

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit took a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year).

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

MAY

It pays to play I:

If there are any lingering doubts that politicians are beholden to the special interest who bankroll their campaigns, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $40350 each, the figures show.

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments.

It pays to play II:

The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday (Sen. Dan Claitor discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search of the Secretary of State’s web page to learn the identities of the NOLA Motor Club corporate officers and whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC. and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed $106,500 to Jindal.

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

A citation and a cease order issued to Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, Capitol News Service has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive in going against sound legal advice to sign the bill into law, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

 

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