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“…All Calcasieu Parish employees have been instructed not to respond to any additional requests or demands (for public records) from you associated with the project.”

“…The next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project, we will proceed with further civil actions and criminal charges.”

—Lake Charles attorney Russell J. Stutes, Jr., in a February 2015 letter to contractor Billy Broussard of Breaux Bridge who lost his legal battle over more than $1 million he says is owed him for debris cleanup following Hurricane Rita in 2005. Mr. Stutes apparently is unaware of Louisiana’s public records law which gives all citizens 18 and older the unrestricted right to request, receive and examine any public record.

Billy Broussard of Breaux Bridge has been fighting a lonely battle for a decade. He has lost in court against a stacked deck and before a judge who appeared predisposed to rule against him at every turn and to verbally berate him in the process.

And now, LouisianaVoice has learned that someone who calls himself an attorney is doing all he can to add threat to injury. When you read the letter from a Lake Charles attorney—actually written nearly a year ago but which only recently came into our possession—you have to wonder where he got his law degree.

Briefly, Broussard’s story started after Hurricane Rita hit Calcasieu Parish back in 2005, just a few weeks behind Katrina.

Broussard was contracted by Calcasieu officials to clean debris from the storm. But, he said, officials started adding work assigned in the original contract. Debris which was in Indian Bayou and Little Indian Bayou before the storm were ordered cleared. The bayou was in close proximity to a high-ranking parish official, Broussard says.

The problem arose when FEMA refused to approve payment for removal of pre-existing debris and Calcasieu Parish refused to make up the difference of something a little north of $1 million.

It didn’t much matter to FEMA that Mike Higdon, the man responsible for making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project, is a half-brother to John Reon, superintendent of Gravity Drainage District 8, for whom Broussard performed his cleanup work.

making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project (Mike Higdon) where he acknowledges that he is a brother of the superintendent of GDD8 John Reon.

Broussard sued and lost but he persisted in seeking public records that would support his position so that he could turn the information over to the media, LouisianaVoice included.

And those efforts to obtain public records led to a threatening letter-from-attorney-russell-stutes-jr which instead of harassment on Broussard’s part, would appear to border on harassment by someone attempting to use his position as an attorney to intimidate Broussard.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received numerous complaints by Calcasieu Parish officials regarding your repetitive public records requests…with respect to the Indian Bayou/Little Indian Bayou project,” Stutes’s letter begins and quickly went downhill from there.

Following more verbiage from Stutes, he incredulously wrote, “…all Calcasieu Parish employees have been instructed not to respond to any additional requests or demands from you associated with the project.”

As to underscore his bullying tactic, Stutes also wrote later in the letter, “Accordingly, the next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project, we will proceed with further civil actions and criminal charges. A rule for contempt of court will be filed, and we will request injunctive relief from Judge (David) Ritchie. Given Judge Ritchie’s outrage at your frivolous claims last year, you and I both know the next time you are brought before him regarding the project, it will likely result in you serving time for deliberately disregarding his rulings.”

Say WHAT?! Who the hell does Stutes think he is, the judges from the Fourth Judicial District in Monroe who filed SUIT against the Ouachita Citizen newspaper in West Monroe because the publication requested public records? Or Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, who SUED two educators when they sought public records? (Note to Stutes: White lost that little gambit decisively in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.)

If Mr. Stutes would bother to take the time to read Louisiana Revised Statute 44.1 (et seq.) R.S. 44.1 (et seq.) which states unequivocally that any citizen 18 years or older has an unfettered right to review (and purchase copies of) any public record in the possession of any public body from the smallest hamlet in the state right on up to the office of the governor.

There is nothing in that statutes that says one can be prohibited from obtaining public documents simply because he came out on the short end of the stick in a court of law.

Likewise, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:4.1 (et seq.) R.S. 42:4.1 (et seq.), specifically R.S. 42:4.4(c) clearly states that all public bodies “shall provide” and opportunity for comments from citizens.

“Consider this your final warning, Mr. Broussard,” Stutes wrote. The harassment of Calcasieu Parish employees must completely and immediately cease. Otherwise, we are prepared to follow through with all remedies allowed by law.”

What a crock.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Stutes. I understand you are contracted by Calcasieu Parish officials, be it the police jury or the gravity drainage district. It doesn’t matter which one, but should I (and I am not Mr. Broussard’s “representative”) decide I wish to obtain public records from either of these bodies, woe be unto anyone who attempts to harass me with a letter like the one you wrote to Mr. Broussard.

It is I who shall follow through with all remedies allowed by law, including fines of up to $500 per day and possible jail time for non-compliance.

Do yourself a favor and read the public records and public meeting laws of the Gret Stet of Looziana.

They’re quite enlightening.

Cody Bowlin, after multiple DWIs and a host of other citations and arrests, finally had his day in court on Monday and came away essentially unscathed with a nominal fine and a requirement for community service.

Bowlin, 26, a self-employed auctioneer, appears to be connected via his grandfather, Marvin Henderson of Livingston, founder of Henderson Brothers Auctioneers who has contributed more than $50,000 to various political candidates since 2003.

His citations, in chronological order, include:

  • March 18, 2008—Possession of marijuana;
  • 21, 2008—Speeding, limitations on passing on the left;
  • 24, 2009—Following too closely, driving under suspension (amended to improper parking);
  • May 3, 2011—Shoplifting;
  • 13, 2011—No seat belt;
  • May 31, 2012—Speeding;
  • Nov, 27, 2012—Careless operation, driving left of center, operating a vehicle while intoxicated with controlled dangerous substance;
  • June 2, 2015—Improper overtaking and passing a stopped school bus;
  • 27, 2015—Possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana or synthetic contraband;
  • 17, 2015—Careless operation of a motor vehicle, driving while intoxicated—controlled substance, second offense; operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, second offense;
  • June 11, 2016—Possession of marijuana, possession of a schedule 3 drug, improper passing, no insurance (charges dismissed);
  • June 23, 2016—Speeding;
  • 21, 2016—Possession of drug paraphernalia.

In at least three cases, Bowlin failed to appear for arraignment and bench warrants were issued for him.

The arresting officer was not present in court for Monday’s proceedings (did District Attorney Scott Perrilloux suggest to him that he need not attend?). Therefore, the charge of second offense DWI was reduced to first offense DWI. All other charges (careless operation, speeding) were conveniently dropped.

Bowlin entered a No Contest plea to first offense DWI, and Bowlin received the following devastating sentence:

  • 6-month jail term, suspended (no jail time);
  • One-year probation;
  • A fine of $600;
  • 32 hours community service;
  • Must attend MADD’sVictim Impact Panel;
  • Court costs of $1,333;
  • Report back to Judge Elizabeth Wolfe on March 13, 2017, so she can monitor “progress.”

Wyman Bankston, Bowlin’s defense attorney (who also represents Henderson Auctions in its ongoing LITIGATION against First Guaranty Bank and Charles Easler/Worldnet Auctions), and Bowlin lingered in the hallway until time for them to appear.

Call us jaded, but we cannot help but think skeptically. If MADD had not been present in the courtroom for the “trial,”—which was left off the court docket (we suspect as a tactic to keep MADD in the dark)—this would have likely been swept under the rug with all charges dropped as has been the case with Bowlin so many times in the past.

We also have to wonder if District Attorney Scott Perrilloux might have suggested to the officer that he need not attend so the charges could be reduced.

 

By Robert Burns

Guest Columnist

It has been over a decade since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. When the levees broke, much of the lower sections of New Orleans flooded. Many people were left without any form of housing because their previous homes had been inundated with water.

That’s when the Federal Government (FEMA) sprang into action. Recognizing the massive need for housing assistance, FEMA ordered an astounding 120,000 travel trailers, at a cost of $2.7 billion, from 60 different suppliers. For the next several years, these FEMA trailers would serve as temporary homes for the tens of thousands of residents who’d lost their homes as they rebuilt or, in some cases, opted to relocate and be bought out by FEMA.

Soon after, many residents complained of temporary memory loss, irritating sore throats, sneezing episodes, and similar ailments. The culprit was determined to be formaldehyde, which the National Institute for Health assessed prolonged exposure at rates exceeding eight parts-per billion (ppb) to be a known carcinogenic risk. Formaldehyde testing began to be conducted by the Center for Disease Control, and those results showed average formaldehyde levels of 40 ppb, or more than five times the level considered safe for extended exposure. Some tests revealed readings 40 times the acceptable level. Concerned about the health risks to the public, FEMA suspended sales of the trailers to the public in July of 2007, almost two years after Katrina made landfall. That moratorium expired on January 1, 2010.

FEMA then had a problem on its hands. Incurring storage costs of $130 million a month, the agency needed to unburden itself of its cumbersome inventory of unoccupied trailers. FEMA opted to hand them off to the General Services Administration which, in turn, auctioned them off in massive quantities per lot for a total price of $133 million, approximately seven cents on the dollar for what FEMA originally paid for the trailers. Buyers purchased the trailers for just under $1,000 per unit on average.

Henderson Auctions, located in Livingston, Louisiana, purchased approximately 23,000 of the FEMA trailers, or about one-sixth of all the trailers deployed. To facilitate the acquisition, the principals of Henderson Auctions, Jeff Henderson and Janet Henderson Cagley, the two children of Henderson Auctions’ founder Marvin Henderson, formed a company called the Lottie Group.

Lottie served to pool the resources of several investors to purchase the trailers for the purpose of liquidating them individually to consumers through successive auctions of hundreds at a time since the ban on sales to the public had been lifted. Accomplishing that turned out to be a tricky proposition, however, when the FDA announced that anyone caught reselling contaminated FEMA trailers could face criminal prosecution. The reselling process was also problematic because some states, Mississippi in particular, strictly forbade the resell of the FEMA trailers due to health concerns over the formaldehyde issue.

The first obstacle faced by Lottie and Henderson Auctions was where to store the 23,000 trailers. That problem was solved by the purchase of the old Evangeline Downs racetrack in Carencro in Lafayette Parish. An entity controlled by Jeff Henderson and Janet Henderson Cagley, Evangeline Properties, LLC, recently sold the old Evangeline Downs property for $11 million in a transaction in which their father, Marvin, notarized the Act of Sale for the sellers when, as a convicted felon, he is ineligible to hold a notary license.

The Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) recently addressed the issue of Henderson’s apparent illegal notarizations but concluded that its hands are tied. The matter has been referred (by the Louisiana Secretary of State) to Livingston Parish District Attorney Scott Perrilloux for appropriate action.

As part of the sales agreements between GSA and buyers such as Lottie/Henderson, GSA insisted upon agreements being signed that the trailers would not be sold for housing purposes but rather only for “storage or recreational” use.

GSA placed stickers on the trailers in all caps declaring the trailers were “NOT TO BE USED FOR HOUSING.” Lottie/Henderson began conducting a series of auctions entailing several hundred trailers at each auction and, despite the fact that representations were made that the trailers were being sold “as is, where is” with all faults and that they should only be purchased for recreational uses such as hunting camps, it didn’t stop many environmentalist bloggers fromlambasting the auctions as well as criticizing the local media for failing to even point out the potential health risks associated with purchasing the trailers.

Selling the FEMA trailers to the public turned out to be a task that took more than three years for Lottie/Henderson to accomplish. Along the way, and in an effort to expand the geographic marketing to consumers in states beyond the Gulf Coast, Henderson reached out to some fellow auctioneers to sell many of the trailers. Once, Charles Easler of South Carolina, a long-time friend of Marvin Henderson, agreed to assist in the effort by accepting over 300 trailers to be auctioned from his facility in South Carolina. That episode, however, didn’t turn out as initially planned as Henderson filed suit against Easler on December 21, 2015 alleging that his one-time friend failed to make payments or account for approximately 60 of those trailers. Easler denied all of Henderson’s allegations.

Meanwhile, amidst all the banking transactions entailed with the trailer sales, Lottie/Henderson found itself in the crosshairs of its own bank, First Guaranty Bank (FGB) of Hammond.  Lottie/Henderson sued, claiming that FGB officials failed to adequately safeguard against their account usernames and passwords from being obtained to execute nearly $1 million in allegedly fraudulent wire transfers. The dates, amounts, and beneficiaries of the alleged fraudulent transfers are summarized in the following table:

 

Date Acct # / Name Amount Beneficiary
       
9/23/11 4767/Lottie $77,000 Golden Door
9/27/11 4767/Lottie $187,400 Time Imports, Inc.
9/28/11 4767/Lottie $5,000 Time Imports, Inc.
9/28/11 4767/Lottie $125,500 Golden Door V & L, Inc.
9/29/11 5806/JAH* $485,740.80 Emirates NBD
10/3/11 5806/JAH* $45,000 VTB 24
10/3/11 8510/JAH* $45,000 Citibank

* JAH is a limited liability corporation doing business as Henderson Auctions.

The lawsuit was not filed until September 22, 2014, well beyond the one-year prescription period to file suit since the final alleged loss was on October 3, 2011. FGB attorneys openly wondered the same, asserting prescription in their answer as one of 27 itemized defenses to the lawsuit. FGB attorneys also claimed that “Plaintiffs are the cause of any loss they have suffered due to their negligence, inattention, failure to investigate, lack of review, lack of management, and/or lack of supervision of the operations of JAH Enterprises, Lottie Group, LLC, including the actions of its members.”

So, where did all these FEMA trailers end up and how are they being used? Environmentalist journalist Heather Smith revealed in her documentary that a good number of these trailers have managed to find their way to North Dakota where the trailers are being routinely utilized as permanent housing for cashiers, fry cooks, and others who have become transplants in North Dakota. Several trailer tenants interviewed said they were lured to North Dakota by the prospect of $17-per-hour jobs as Wal-Mart cashiers (vs. $7-per-hour in their home states). One of the tenants acknowledged that the $1,200 rent on his FEMA trailer is high, but added that it’s the only housing he can afford where costs are so high because of the oil boom in North Dakota.

The VIN of one tenant’s travel trailer was traced in order to learn its origin. It was one of the 23,000 trailers purchased by Henderson Auctions.

The trailer of one tenant was tested and the occupant was told that his formaldehyde count is 30 ppb, or nearly four times the level considered safe for extended exposure. Tenants were encouraged to vent their units clean air from outdoors to dilute the concentrations of formaldehyde—hardly an option for the frigid North Dakota winter months. Shapiro questioned if the $17 per hour wage was worth the health risks to which these FEMA trailer tenants are unwittingly exposing themselves.

 

Sometimes we just need a break.

This is the time of year, of course, when all the stores pipe in seasonal music in an effort to subliminally force the Christmas spirit on us in the hopes that like a guilt trip, it will motivate us to spend lots and lots of cash on cards and gifts for everyone from the landscape contractor to kids and grandkids.

Nothing like a little not-so-subtle advertising to put us in the mood, right? I mean, who wouldn’t be stirred down to our very souls by such a deeply moving Christmas carol like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer? (by the way, I make it a personal objective every year to make it through the Christmas season without being subjected to that awful song.)

And of course, there are the mind-numbing TV Christmas specials, paid for by an endless array of commercials hawking everything from cars to diamonds to toys and appliances.

And that is precisely why I am offering a little respite from the routine, the routine of writing about politics and the routine of being ground down by an annual Christmas season that long ago stopped being about Christmas, co-opted by a mindset of commercialism bordering on outright profiteering.

The way I cope with this is by reading. If I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. (Yeah, I know, that doesn’t speak much to my neglect of cardiovascular exercise. I’m starting to get those Aretha Franklin upper arms and my stomach makes a handy table for my laptop.)

But reading is my passion and I want to tell you about a delightful book I just read.

Anyone who loves baseball (and who doesn’t, after that thrilling seventh game of this year’s World Series?), will thoroughly enjoy Uncle Drew and the Bat Dodger by Thomas Cochran.

UNCLE DREW AND THE BAT DODGER epub Edition

It’s not about politics, there are no spies, no murders and no sex. Just baseball. And better yet, it’s set in Claiborne Parish, up in north Louisiana where I traipsed around as a much younger man, in the fictional town of Oil Camp.

It mentions such exotic getaways as Minden in Webster Parish and Arcadia in Bienville, where my old sandlot team, the Ruston Ramblers played some hard-fought games against Emmett Woodard’s Arcadia Aces.

We finished as runner-up to Arcadia several years in a row but never beat them for the title. They even beat us in the championship game one year with only seven players. They were that good. (It was against Arcadia, however, that I got my one and only run batted in—the game-winning RBI, no less—in my 10 years as the Ramblers manager and occasional player. That I ever got to play at all is attributable solely to the fact that I owned the team. But I still hold to the opinion that I could have been a good baseball player except for the unfortunate inability to hit, run, catch or throw.)

But back to our story. It’s listed as juvenile fiction by the book’s publisher, Pelican Publishing of Gretna, but I would recommend it for youngsters of all ages. I’m 73 and I loved it. I’m not sure where author Cochran is from, but I’d bet my old glove he’s from north Louisiana.

The story is told through the voice of nine-year-old (soon to be 10) Teddy Caldwell who meets his elderly neighbor, Drew Weems, by hitting a baseball through the old man’s window. A friendship quickly forms between the two. When Teddy mentions that Derek Jeter is his favorite player, Drew, Uncle Drew, snorts in derision. He confides that his all-time favorite is Cantrell “Bopeep” Shines, hands-down.

Uncle Drew, it turns out as the story unfolds, was a 14-year-old farm boy when a bus broke down in Claiborne Parish near the pond where he was fishing. The passengers were members of an all-black barnstorming baseball team of the old Negro Leagues which existed before Jackie Robinson broke the major league’s color barrier.

Shines, the team’s star pitcher, was fed up of not being paid and walks away on foot, trailed by the curious Drew. Eventually they hook up and Drew fries the fish he has caught for Shines who confides in the white boy his plans to make “real money.”

Drew decides to throw in with Shines and the two strike out on their own barnstorming tour across the South and even into Texas where Shines, with Drew serving as his catcher and bookkeeper, takes on all comers in one-on-one encounters, challenging would-be hitters to bat against him. The bets range from a few cents all the way up to an eye-popping $500 bet with, of all people, retired Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb, owner of the all-time high major league career batting average.

I won’t tell you how that face-off ended, but along the way, Shines picks up the name Bat Dodger. (He called himself Bopeep because he herded hitters “like sheeps.” He used banter with hitters to his advantage by getting into their heads much like we imagine Satchel Paige might have done in his prime.

Drew decides to mentor the underachieving right fielder Teddy and teaches him to use the same windup employed by Shines. Of course, when he goes out for the team, the coach automatically assigns him to right field, the position generally played by the last player chosen, though in real baseball, from college on up to the majors, the strong arm of the right fielder is an important commodity.

But Teddy and Drew have other ideas. Teddy asks to try out for pitcher.

To learn what happens to Drew, Shines and Teddy’s tryout for pitcher, you’ll just have order the book from PELICAN.