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The Louisiana Office of Inspector General spent more than twice as much on attending conferences and conventions for fiscal years 2012-2016 than it did on travel for investigating public corruption, the job it is charged by statute with doing, according to RECORDS obtained by LouisianaVoice.

A former investigator for the OIG, which has experienced unusually high turnover among its investigative agents, said Inspector General Stephen Street was always “very secretive” about revealing the agency’s budget to subordinates. “He never let us see any of the agency’s finances,” the former investigator said.

By combining the yearly budgets, the totals reflect that OIG had a five-year budget of $45,475 for all (in-state and out-of-state) field (investigative) travel compared to a combined budget for all convention and conference travel of  $75,450, a difference of almost $30,000.

Five-year expenditures for both field travel and conference and convention travel fell well below the respective figures budgeted but conference and convention travel expenditures of $63,735 were more than double the $30,011 spent on investigating reports of wrongdoing by public officials.

By breaking the budgets down to expenditures for only in-state field travel and out-of-state conferences and conventions, the contrast was even more glaring.

Only $11,200 of a total budget of $30,315 was spent on in-state field travel for the five years (an average of $2,240 per year) while the $52,535 spent on out-of-state conferences and conventions ($10,509 per year) exceeded its $42,135 total budget for that purpose by nearly 25 percent.

In looking at yearly budget line items, Street’s office exceeded its budget for out-of-state conferences and conventions by 50 percent in 2013 and by 68 percent the following year.

The budget for travel to out-of-state conferences and conventions was $10,210 for each of those years but in fiscal year 2013, Street’s office spent $15,350 and spent even more—$17,181—in fiscal 2014 on non-investigation related out-of-state travel

Also for both 2013 and 2014, the OIG’s budget for in-state field travel was $11,933 but the agency spent only $2,811 in 2013 and $4,447 in 2014 for that purpose.

TRAVEL RECORDS provided by the OIG’s office show that beginning in August 2012, Street, often accompanied by as many as three or four other OIG personnel traveled on the state dime to such places as West Palm Beach, Clearwater, Destin and Jacksonville, Florida; Austin and San Antonio, Texas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, Detroit, Memphis, Baltimore, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Newark, New Jersey.

Of those 22 trips taken by Street and OIG staff members, five (taken by someone other than Street) were described as “investigation related.” All the others were said to have been for training or for Association of Inspectors General (AIG) functions.

Street is the AIG national president and also serves as an adjunct instructor for the National White Collar Crime Center and the Inspector General Investigator Academy. “Whenever I teach for those organizations,” he said, “they cover 100 percent of travel and lodging.”

Still, at the end of the day, one has to wonder how an agency charged with investigating public corruption in a state so riddled with public corruption as Louisiana can possibly justify racking up expenditures for out-of-state convention and conference travel that more than doubles that spent on in-state investigative travel.

But then again, we may have answered our own rhetorical question with that “so riddled with public corruption as Louisiana” line.

Tommy Teague has been un-teagued.

Put another way, he’s back.

Tommy Teague, who was rewarded by Bobby Jindal for taking the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) from an underfunded program to one with half-a-billion dollars in reserve funds in five years. Bobby Jindal rewarded him for his performance by firing him. But he has been BROUGHT BACK to lead the agency that provides health coverage for about 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

Because Jindal had also fired Teague’s wife, the late Melody Teague, only a few months earlier, the term “teagued” was soon applied to any employee or legislator who was fired or demoted by Jindal for disagreeing with or voting against any of the administration’s proposals, most of which proved detrimental or outright disastrous for the state.

Melody Teague got her job back but only after being forced to go through the Civil Service appeal process. Now, Tommy Teague has his old job back, albeit nearly seven years later.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne announced that Teague will assume his new duties as OGB chief executive officer (CEO) on Monday, Dec. 12.

“Tommy Teague brings years of valuable experience to the helm of Group Benefits,” Dardenne said. “He has a proven record of success in the agency, and I am pleased he has agreed to return to this post.”

Teague previously served as the agency’s CEO from 2006 to 2011. He was in good standing with what passed as the Jindal administration until April 15, 2011. But when he failed to display sufficient enthusiasm for Jindal’s privatization proposal for the agency, then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater unceremoniously showed him the door.

OGM subsequently went through a succession of CEOs until Susan West took over and put her own stamp on the agency. That stamp included decreasing/increasing premiums, decreasing benefits and firing employees. Jindal, meanwhile, in what seemed to be an inexplicable move at the time, went against consultants’ recommendations and reduced premiums.

But there turned out to be a method to his madness. Because the state is on the hook for 75 percent of the premiums of employees, by reducing premiums, the obligations of the state were also reduced accordingly. Jindal then took the difference in what the state previously paid and the lower rate and used that money to help plug his annual budget deficits.

But by doing that, the reserve fund began to be diminished dramatically as income from premiums failed to keep up with payments of benefits. In no time, the reserve fund was gutted by about 80 percent until less than $100 million remained before Kristy Nichols, Rainwater’s successor, and West began tampering with the system by increasing premiums and cutting benefits.

A spokesman for Dardenne’s office said on Wednesday that West was leaving the agency, but he said he did not know what her plans were.

“I am anxious to return to work and look forward to serving the state again,” Teague said. “I am confident my previous experience will benefit the office.”

In addition to his prior stint as Group Benefits CEO, Teague served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Louisiana Health Cooperative and executive director of the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund.

TGTB (Thank God Tommy’s Back).

 

It will be exactly six years tomorrow that a federal judged was ousted from office by impeachment. It so happens that it was a Louisiana judge, Thomas Porteous of New Orleans, a Bill Clinton appointee, was removed by vote of the U.S. Senate on Dec. 8, 2010, for taking bribes and making false statements under oath.

Porteous is the only federal judge among the 15 who have been removed by impeachment who was from Louisiana.

Could it now be that a second Louisiana judge, an appointee of Clinton’s successor, may face a similar fate? Well, no one has gone so far as to suggest that just yet, but the rumor mill about U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi’s reported drinking problems is at full throttle in the Lake Charles area.

One of the grounds for impeachment of federal judges, who are appointed for life, is intoxication on the bench and two have been removed for that reason, the most recent almost 150 years ago.

The first was John Pickering, an appointee of George Washington, who was impeached and removed in 1803 for mental instability and intoxication on the bench. The other was and Abraham Lincoln appointee, Mark Delahay, likewise removed in 1873 for intoxication on the bench.

It is important to explain the difference between an official’s being impeached and removed. Impeachment is simply the bringing of formal charges against an officeholder. He is then tried by the U.S. Senate and that body’s vote of guilty or not guilty determines if the accused is removed from office.

In the case of the charges against Porteous, senators voted guilty unanimously—96-0—for his failure to recuse himself in a case involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of trading favors for cash. On the charge of accepting meals, trips and car repair from a bail bondsman, the vote was 69-27 in favor of conviction. The Senate then voted 94-2 that he should be disqualified from ever again holding federal office.

LouisianaVoice has received reports that Minaldi, a federal judge for the Western District of Louisiana in Lake Charles had a criminal case over which she was the presiding judge REMOVED following a series of procedural errors, including assigning some of her duties to a prosecuting attorney.

A native of Somerset, Massachusetts, she is a 1980 graduate of Wesleyan University and a 1983 graduate of Tulane University Law School.

From 1983 to 1986, she served as an assistant district attorney of New Orleans before accepting a similar post at the 14th Judicial District in Lake Charles until 1996, when she became a state district judge in the same district.

She was nominated for a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush on January 15, 2003. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 6 and assumed office three days later, succeeding Judge James Trimble when Trimble reached senior status.

As federal judge, she dismissed a case in 2009 against a man who mailed anthrax and bomb threats following 9/11. The man had been convicted by a federal jury in 2004 on charges of threatening to use weapons of mass destructions but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction and his 30-year prison sentence in April 2009.

She was arrested on January 23, 2014, for having an open alcoholic beverage inside her vehicle and less than a month later, on February 14, she was charged with DWI. She refused a field sobriety test but ultimately pleaded guilty to DWI.

One source, an attorney, said Minaldi has been appearing on the bench intoxicated and unable to perform her duties. On at least one such occasion, the attorney said, the case was removed from her court and transferred to the federal court in Alexandria.

“I’ve heard the stories,” said another. “We all have. In our professional circle, it would impossible not to hear them. There were a lot of questions about a criminal case that was removed from her courtroom.

In fact, Judge Minaldi has been pulled off several cases this year, the latest of which occurred just yesterday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS reported that the trial of a man accused of producing kiddie porn and of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor was cut short less than an hour after court convened with no reason provided for the mistrial.

The only clue, and a sketchy one at that, was in the form of a single-page order from Chief Judge Dee Drell that he was “exercising (his) prerogative” in terminating proceedings. That trial is scheduled to resume on Jan. 3 in Alexandria.

In that case, Frankie Maldonado is the defendant. His attorney, Randal McCann, as well as the prosecuting attorney, have not commented on the sudden unexpected termination of Maldonado’s trial.

Nor has Judge Minaldi commented on the chief judge’s actions or of reports about her alleged problem with alcohol. LouisianaVoice attempted to contact her by telephone but was told she was not in her office. So far, she has not responded to our request that she return our call.

The biggest case pulled from Judge Minaldi—again, after trial proceedings were underway—was that of Iberia Parish Sheriff LOUIS ACKEL, accused of beating prisoners in his jail. His trial was moved to Shreveport and he was subsequently acquitted.

A third attorney contacted by LouisianaVoice was more circumspect than the others. “Let me say this,” the attorney said. “I personally like Judge Minaldi and when she’s okay, she’s a good judge. She’s very personable and a likable person. I knew she had a problem at one time but did not know she’d started drinking again. That’s very unfortunate.”

“…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.