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Jefferson Davis Parish and the City of Jennings have for years now been the unwanted focus of national attention because of unsolved murders of eight (at least, some say there are more) prostitutes from 2005 to 2008.

Those murders are said to have been the inspiration for the TV show TRUE DETECTIVE.

Although author ETHAN BROWN, in his book Murder in the Bayou, as well as numerous national media stories is about the eight women, some sources say the number of UNSOLVED MURDERS in the parish is higher, that the actual number is at least 13 and also includes four male victims.

And while the eight female victims who have drawn so much media scrutiny since discovery of Necole Guillory nearly a decade ago were known drug users, it’s not insignificant to note that Brown claims that each also was a police informant.

Yet, while ROLLING STONE magazine, DR. OZ and others continue to devote considerable ink and camera time to the mystery, Jennings rolls along planning for Louisiana’s Most Beautiful City competition while seemingly ignoring areas of blighted abandoned houses in the city and burgeoning drug trafficking in those abandoned homes despite repeated warnings from one of its citizens.

That citizen, Christopher Lehman, is a retired Navy veteran and a retired federal civil service employee who upon moving to Jennings, served as a community services coordinator for the Jennings Police Department but was fired after making too much noise about open narcotics transactions on his street.

His dismissal has not deterred him from photographing suspected drug deals from vehicles and abandoned houses on his street and hitting the mayor’s office with a barrage of recorded incidents he feels were also narcotics transactions.

In fact, Lehman has combined several binders of photographs, reports and other information that he turned over to the city authorities. His warnings were consistently ignored.

Lehman, it seems, knew what he was talking about. Jennings police recently arrested 10 people in a major HEROIN BUST.

The Jennings Police Department chief, Todd D’Albor, recently resigned to take a similar position as leader of the newly-formed New Iberia Police Department.

That city, of course, has its own set of problems with a sheriff under fire and having escaped conviction on federal criminal charges brought against him in connection with the mistreatment of prisoners in his jail, including the deaths of some prisoners in his custody.

The most notorious case was that of a 20-year-old black male who authorities claimed managed to obtain a gun and shoot himself in the chest—while his hands were cuffed behind him.

The sheriff’s office took over patrol of New Iberia several years ago when the police department was disbanded because of a lack of city revenue with which to fund the department. Only after residents voted approval of $500,000 to reinstate the department last year was the department resurrected.

The vote to bring back the New Iberia city police department may have been prompted in part by the city’s VIOLENT CRIME RATE which runs far ahead of the state and national averages.

It’s uncertain if the New Iberia mayor and city council examined an audit report of the City of Jennings which said that D’Albor, while heading the Jennings Police Department, used public property for his personal use, used police department personnel to run personal errands, and that he stored personal property at city facilities against city policy.

All that might cause the casual observer to question why one city with a chronic crime problem would hire a police chief from a city where eight—or 13—unsolved murders continue to pose serious questions as to what is being done to solve the murders as well as to curtail open drug deals on the streets of a city that aspires to the title of Most Beautiful.

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The powers that be in state and local government, i.e., agency and departmental heads, like to give the impression that personal activities on the job, particularly as they might involve office computers and personal email messages, are strictly verboten.

That’s not to say, of course, that while the lowly peons are held to this higher standard of professional excellence, supervisors don’t shop Amazon.com or book cruises or Disney vacations while at work.

But, hey! Everyone fudges on those restrictions. It’s the rare employee indeed who doesn’t sneak in a little self-time on state computers and telephones.

But the Hon. JIMBO STEPHENS, newly-elected judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, or at least Rayville attorney John Hoychick, Jr., acting on his behalf, has taken the practice to new heights with an email blast to a gaggle of attorneys seeking campaign contributions for Stephens.

Hoychick included in his email at least five attorneys working on the public dime, either for the City of Monroe, the University of Louisiana Monroe, or the gret stet of Looziana as well as no fewer than seven barristers in the employ of CenturyLink, the telecommunications company headquarter in Monroe.

Louisiana agencies some of the recipients work for are employed by include the Department of Social Services and the Department of Children and Family Services (where the rank and file workers are chronically short-staffed and overworked but not, apparently, the attorneys).

Stephens, who defeated 4th JDC Judge Sharon Marchman in last October’s ELECTION, apparently wishes to retire his campaign debts and Hoychick is not the least bit shy in calling on some 140 attorneys in his email blast to do just that.

And while it may be a breach of protocol to solicit contributions from them at their taxpayer-funded jobs, it nevertheless serves as a classic illustration of how judges tend to lean on attorneys who might at some time in the future appear before them to argue a case or two—and woe unto one who has not paid his dues (at least that seems to be the mindset).

A “Sponsor Couple” can buy in for a mere 500 bucks while those on a tighter budget can get by for $150 as a “Supporter Couple,” according to Hoychick’s email solicitation.

(I just hope Stephens’s fundraiser doesn’t cut into LouisianaVoice’s ongoing fundraiser.)

Curiously, the email (or at least the one forwarded to LouisianaVoice) doesn’t give a date, time, or location for the highly anticipated “kickoff event.” But not to worry: checks, “payable to Judge Jimbo Stephens Campaign Committee,” can be brought to the event (wherever) “or mailed to Judge Jimbo Stephens Campaign Committee.”

Surely, the State of Louisiana, ULM, the City of Monroe, or CenturyLink won’t mind if their staff attorneys take a little time to write a check to the good judge. After all, if there’s important legal work to be done, it can be pawned off on an overworked paralegal or legal secretary.

I feel like a televangelist hitting viewers up for love offerings in exchange for a parchment paper prayer rug or a vial of sand from the mountain where I’m planning to go to pray for you (honest, I heard a televangelist offer to send sand from a mountain he had yet to travel to).

But at least I’ve not sunk to the depths of one, a Rev. Silas Strut, who offered for sale on his radio show his “Christian weight loss plan,” a cassette tape (remember those?) called “Help Me, Jesus, the Devil wants Me Fat.” He also offered a tape called “Those Satanic Smurfs,” but nothing topped the special diet plan, though I’ve often wondered about what constitutes a satanic smurf.

Anyway, I hope I don’t come off like any of those guys when I hit you up for contributions to LouisianaVoice. But the truth is, we do need some semblance of cash flow to keep the lights on.

And since I don’t accept advertising or charge a subscription fee, that leaves the old honor system as our only option. It’s Sorta like when I coached that sandlot baseball team, the Ruston Ramblers. We never charged admission (none of the teams in our old North Central League did), but we did pass the hat at games to try and raise enough money to pay the umpires and to replace lost baseballs that opposing batters routinely knocked out of sight and the wooden Louisville Sluggers that some batters were certain to break because they never learned to hold the bat correctly.

So, if you haven’t contributed yet, please consider doing so by either clicking on the yellow DONATE button to the right of this paragraph to pay by credit card or by sending a check to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

I promise not to send you any parchment paper prayer cloths or cassette tapes about special diet plans or about smurfs—satanic or otherwise. And as much as I’d like to be able to do so, I won’t promise you your contribution will bring you a financial miracle—just a continuation of coverage of stories the mainstream media doesn’t cover.

And as they said in the old Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler commercials: Thank you for your support.

Tom Aswell

Something happening here,

What it is ain’t exactly clear

 

The 1967 Buffalo Springfield Vietnam War protest song, For What It’s Worth could be applicable to just about any scenario in Louisiana politics but probably never more so than with HOUSE BILL 727 by State Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads).

Thibaut, posing as a Democrat but appearing to be anything but, apparently wants to repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT which guarantees American citizens the right of peaceful assembly.

HB 727, which has 50 additional co-authors in the House and 14 in the Senate, would amend an existing statute in accordance with the dictates of the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC), which long ago wormed its way into the Republican mindset as a means of advancing its agenda.

That agenda, of course, works hand-in-hand with that of corporate America—big oil, big banks, big pharma, charter schools, and private prisons, among others—to the overall detriment of those who ultimately foot the bill—the working stiffs of middle America who continue to convince themselves that their interests are compatible.

The bottom line is this: if the corporate giants are shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to lobby lawmakers and to finance their campaigns, you can bet they’re in bed together. And when they whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear, they ain’t discussing how to make your life easier.

And that’s HB 727 and ALEC are all about. While the seemingly innocuous bill appears only to lay out penalties for trespassing onto “critical infrastructure,” and to include “pipelines” or “any site where the construction or improvement of any facility or structure…is occurring” to the definition of critical infrastructure, the wording of the bill includes subtle landmines designed to discourage otherwise legal protests.

For instance, while criminal trespass and criminal damage has long been considered a violation of the law, the bill adds this provision:

“Any person who commits the crime of criminal damage to a critical infrastructure wherein it is foreseeable that human life will be threatened or operations of a critical infrastructure will be disrupted as a result of such conduct shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than six years nor more than 20 years, fined not more than $25,000, or both.”

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

The key phrase here is “wherein it is foreseeable…”

This is a pretty subjective call on someone’s part. Just who decides what is “foreseeable”?

And then there is the conspiracy clause that’s added to the bill.

HB 727, which passed the HOUSE by an overwhelming 97-3 vote with five members absent, provides if “two or more” person conspire to violate the statute, each “shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than five years, fined not more than $10,000, or both.”

Just what would constitute a “conspiracy” in this case? Well, it could mean the simple discussion of possible trespass. Whatever it is, the word “foreseeable” is thrown into the mix again. So, a protest in the proximity of pipeline construction could conceivably be construed by an ambitious prosecutor as “conspiracy” and any discussion during such a protest could become a conspiracy.

Besides being yet another windfall for the private prisons, this bill is nothing more than a means to discourage protests over pipeline construction through sensitive areas such as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 (keep those names in mind; they’ll come up again later).

It’s also an obvious effort to placate ALEC and the oil and gas industry that has held this state, its governors and legislators captive for a century. The political leaders of this state, from the governor on down, won’t go to the bathroom without permission from Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which boasts on its WEB PAGE that it is “Louisiana’s longest-standing trade association” (read: lobbying arm of the petroleum industry).

There’s battle lines being drawn;

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

What’s not difficult to believe is the motivation behind nearly half of the bill’s sponsors.

Of the 51 representatives and 14 senators who signed on as co-authors of the bill, 31 (23 representatives and eight senators) combined to rake in $62,500 in contributions from Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 since January 2011.

ENERGY TRANSFER PARTNERS CONTRIBUTIONS

PHILLIPS 66 CONTRIBUTIONS

Phillips also gave $3,500 to Senate President John Alario and Energy Transfer Partners chipped in another $4,000. Additionally, Energy Transfer Partners gave $4,000 to then-Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish who was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority, $2,000 to then-Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro who served as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.

Energy Transfer Partners also contributed $5,000 to Edwards, who is on record as SUPPORTING the Bayou Bridge project, and Phillips 66 added another $5,500.

Thibaut was not one of those. But he did specialize in accepting campaign contributions from more than 40 political action committees—including several aligned with energy interests. In all, he pulled in $105,000 from PACs since 2008, campaign records show.

Those PACs included such diverse interests as dentists, bankers, payday loan companies, optometrists, insurance, student loans, pharmaceutical companies, sugar, realtors, and nursing homes, to name only a few.

EASTPAC, WESTPAC, NORTHPAC, and SOUTHPAC, four PACs run by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) combined to $13,750 to Thibaut, records show, while the Louisiana Manufacturers PAC gave $11,000.

With that money stacked against them, the Bayou Bridge pipeline opponents are fighting an uphill battle, especially with leaders like Edwards already having publicly endorsed the project.

The end game, of course, is to head off a repeat of STANDING ROCK, the largest Native American protest movement in modern history over the construction of a 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline, of which the BAYOU BRIDGE project through the Atchafalaya Basin is a part. Opponents of the 162-mile Bayou Bridge project—from St. James Parish to Calcasieu Parish—say would harm the area’s delicate ecosystem.

Standing Rock was an ugly scene, further illustrative of how this country has time after time ripped land, basic human rights and dignity from the country’s original inhabitants, inhabitants who weren’t even recognized as American citizens until 1924 even though more than 12,000 fought for this country in World War I.

Standing Rock apparently was such a national emergency that St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, at the time President of the National Sheriffs’ Association, found it necessary to visit Standing Rock in 2016 and to write a lengthy self-serving account in the association’s online PRESIDENT’S PODIUM of the carnage he witnessed at the hands of the protestors whom he described in less than glowing terms.

His article prompted a lengthy REBUTTAL by Cherri Foytlin, state Director of BOLD LOUISIANA in Rayne and Monique Verdin, a citizen of the UNITED HOUMA NATION, who also were at Standing Rock. It’s difficult to believe, after reading the two missives, that they were at the same place, witnessing the same events play out.

What a field day for the heat;

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side.”

JIM BROWN, Louisiana’s erstwhile legislator, secretary of state, gubernatorial candidate, state insurance commissioner and self-described victim of an over-zealous FBI HATCHET JOB, today has a radio talk show and publishes an Internet blog as well as dabbling in the BOOK-PUBLISHING business.

On May 6, Brown will turn 78 but as a former track star at the University of North Carolina (he was the first athlete recruited by the legendary Dean Smith), he has certainly shown no signs of slowing down.

But this isn’t about Jim Brown per se. It’s about a post by Brown that reminded me just how unfair American justice can be and how badly the FBI can screw up.

Even FBI directors and agents who screw up and are eventually promoted to director of the FBI.

Agents like James Comey and former Director Robert Mueller.

In the interest of full disclosure and as an open admission that I am not an “objective news reporter” by any stretch, I want to say it pains me greatly to write anything that puts Donald Trump, whom I detest with every fiber in my being, in a favorable light—even by comparison. I will add that I purchased Comey’s book and actually started reading it. But I put it down after a few pages of self-serving fluff about what a great kid he was growing up, how he was bullied, and how he rose above it all. It just seemed to be a little too me, me, me.

I know I will receive critical comments, and though I am no fan of Hillary Clinton, I remain firmly convinced that the accident of Donald Trump (elected with a substantial minority of popular votes) is the worst tragedy to befall this nation since the Civil War. By comparison, LBJ was a benevolent father figure, Nixon a saint, George W. Bush a towering intellect, and Bill Clinton a paragon of marital fidelity.

But here’s the thing, as Brown reminds us in his POST: Comey, abetted by his boss, then-FBI Director Mueller, literally ruined the life of an LSU professor a mere 16 years ago.

It all actually started in 2001. Mueller had been appointed FBI Director in July of that year by W. In a matter of days after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the first of several envelopes containing deadly anthrax were sent to NBC News, the New York Post and the publisher of The Sun and The National Enquirer tabloids. In October, two more such envelopes were received at the Senate offices of Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. In all, 17 persons fell ill and five died from anthrax inhalation.

It didn’t take long for fingers to start pointing (incorrectly) to an obscure medical doctor named Steven Hatfill who once had worked at the Army’s elite Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which, coincidentally, had stocks of anthrax, according to a lengthy 2010 article in THE ATLANTIC, entitled simply, “The Wrong Man.”

Hatfill immediately became the central figure in a media circus and the FBI was happy to oblige the need to find a scapegoat for the anthrax letters. He was working at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a large defense contractor, from 1999 to 2002, where he was involved in developing a brochure for emergency personnel on ways in which to handle anthrax hoax letters.

He wasn’t surprised, then, when the FBI wanted to interview him for what he thought was the agency’s pursuit of foreign terrorists. He assumed that the FBI was routinely interviewing all scientists who had worked at USAMRIID.

It didn’t seem to matter to the FBI that anthrax is a bacterium and Hatfill was a virologist who never handled anthrax.

Investigators raided Hatfill’s girlfriend’s townhouse, telling her, “Your boyfriend killed five people.” He was fired from SAIC with the official explanation being that he had failed to maintain a necessary security clearance (a disqualification that would eliminate about half of Trump’s White House staff).

And here’s where the local angle comes in. He thought he’d landed on his feet when LSU hired him as the associate director of its new program designed to train firefighters and other emergency personnel to respond to terrorist acts and natural disasters. The pay ($150,000) was to be the same as he’d made at SAIC.

But Justice Department officials, in their desperation to nail Hatfill, told LSU to “cease and desist” from using him on any federally-funded program. Accordingly, he was fired before his first day on the job. Then other prospective jobs fell through. Like the anthrax he was suspected of sending, he became toxic. One job fell through his fingers like so much sand when he emerged from a meeting with prospective employers only to find FBI agents videotaping them.

For two years, his friends were interrogated, his phone was tapped, surveillance cameras recorded his every move. (Comey recently said in his ABC-TV interview with George Stephanopoulos that if an FBI agent can’t put his investigation together in 18 months, he should be fired.)

The FBI brought in two bloodhounds from California whose handlers insisted the dogs could sniff the scent of the killer on the anthrax letters—never mind that sniffing the letters would have been lethal to the animals. When Hatfill petted the dogs, their handlers said the dogs responded “favorably,” proof that Hatfill was the killer.

If the FBI had shown even a fraction of investigative professionalism in the dog handlers’ backgrounds as they had in Hatfill’s, they might well have sent the handlers—and their dogs—packing. Defendants in California who had been convicted on the basis of the dogs’ behavior were later exonerated. In one case, a judge called the dog handlers “as biased as any witness that this court has ever seen.”

But Mueller was infatuated with the dog evidence, however, personally assuring Attorney General John Ashcroft that they had their man. Comey, asked if Hatfill might be another Richard Jewell (the Atlanta security guard wrongly accused of the Olympics bombing), was just as adamant, saying he was “absolutely certain” there was no mistake.

Well, as we all know by now, Hatfill was innocent.

Mueller and Comey’s certainty that he was the anthrax killer eventually cost the Justice Department nearly $6 million in a LEGAL SETTLEMENT. Refusing to attend the press conference announcing the resolution of the case, Mueller was less than contrite about ruining an innocent man’s life. Responding later to reporters’ questions, he said, “I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation. He added that it would be erroneous “to say there were mistakes.”

But, Mr. Mueller…there were mistakes. There was incompetence. There was recklessness. Most of all, there was a total lack of concern for an innocent man’s life—all for the benefit of advancing the careers of ambitious men too caught up in their own careers to think of the impact their actions might have on another’s livelihood.

As much as I loathe Trump and all he stands for, I fervently hope that Mueller—and by extension, Comey—haven’t traveled down that same path in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

And last of all, but certainly not least, thanks to Jim Brown for reminding us of a dark chapter in LSU’s history, a chapter in which there should be everlasting shame, one that ranks right alongside that of the sorry saga Ivor Von Heerden’s firing over his criticism of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following Hurricane Katrina (it turned out his criticisms were dead-on)—neither of which should ever be forgotten.