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Archive for February, 2011

Louisiana Voice/Capitol News Service has made three separate formal public records requests of the “most transparent administration in Louisiana history” and so far, not a peep has been received in response. Only silence.

Nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

The most ethical administration ever has been strangely quiet when asked to give an accounting of its own actions.

We requested documentation of the number of days Gov. Bobby Jindal was out of the state during calendar year 2010. We even went so far as to stipulate the purposes for his extended absences for him: campaign appearances for fellow Republicans, fund raisers for his own re-election campaign, and promotional appearances to hawk his self-serving book, Leadership and Crisis, the autobiography that he hopes will catapult him into the U.S. presidency. Or not.

We can only assume the Louisiana public records law, R.S. 44:1 applies to the governor’s office. After all, the definition of a “public body” is clearly spelled out in the statute as “any branch, department, office, agency, board, commission, district, governing authority, political subdivision, or any committee, subcommittee, advisory board, or task force thereof, or any other instrumentality of state, parish, or municipal government, including a public or quasi-public nonprofit corporation designated as an entity to perform a governmental or proprietary function.”

The definition also includes “all books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memoranda, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state, are ‘public records’, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter or the Constitution of Louisiana.”

The statute does exempt “any documentary material of a security feature of a public body’s electronic data processing system, information technology system, telecommunications network, or electronic security system, including hardware or software security, password, or security procedure, process, configuration, software, and code.”

“To be ‘public,’ the record must have been used, prepared, possessed, or retained for use in connection with a function performed under authority of the Louisiana Constitution, a state law, or an ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of a public body,” according to the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR). “This definition covers virtually every kind of record kept by a state or local governmental body,” PAR says.

We thought perhaps we did not meet the criteria to request the records or maybe our request was for the wrong reasons. But, it turns out, we qualify on all counts. “In Louisiana, any person at least 18 years of age may inspect, copy, reproduce, or obtain a copy of any public record. La. R.S. 44:32. The purpose for the document request is immaterial, and an agency or record custodian may not inquire as to the reason,” PAR adds.

To be completely fair, we know these things take time.

We only began our requests in January, after all.

But wait. It turns out that the statute also covers that, or in current parlance, there’s an app for that. If the public record being requested is available, “it must be given to you immediately” and if it is not available, the custodian of the public record “must let you know this in writing.” And if it is not deemed to be a public record, the custodian “must respond within three business days,” according to PAR.

Maybe Jindal’s office simply did not receive our request. But wait! That can’t be because with the first request we submitted, we also asked for the number of state-issued cell phones assigned to the governor’s office and that information was provided.

Well, then, the only other logical explanation for the most transparent, most ethical administration in Louisiana history to not produce the requested records is we waited too long and the records possibly have been shredded or deleted.

Oops. It turns out the statute also covers that contingency. Public records “must be kept for at least three years,” it says.

What to do?

PAR says if five or more business days pass from the time the written records request was made and there is no response, one should contact the Attorney General’s office or the local district attorney, or both. Another option is to retain an attorney and sue the custodian and the public body.

“Custodians (or their public body) who violate the law may have to pay legal fines, damages, and the suing person’s legal fees,” PAR said, adding, “Custodians who violate the law also may be required to serve time in prison.”

Oh, well. Maybe the custodian will be sent to one of the governor’s privatized prisons. No rehabilitation programs. No educational courses. Just lock and feed.

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A funny thing happened on the way to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s anticipated 11 a.m. press conference on Wednesday to announce his plans for the privatization of several state prisons: it never happened. And what did occur quickly morphed into damage control in the governor’s office.

Instead of a real live press conference, the media received only a four-page press release that said, in essence, that the state was transferring Dabadie Correction Center in Pineville and Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport to the sheriffs of the two parishes.

The press release even contained extensive laudatory quotes by the sheriffs of the two parishes as well as by the executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and James LeBlanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. To a man, they praised the agreement, claiming the move would be beneficial to the state and to both communities.

But when the Alexandria Town Talk hit the streets on Thursday morning, readers learned that both sheriffs had, almost in unison, disavowed any such agreement. Both Rapides Sheriff Charles Wagner, Jr. and Avoyelles Sheriff Doug Anderson indicated they had no inclination—or intention—to take over the facilities.

The governor’s press release quoted Wagner thusly: “Our intention is to save the jobs at Dabadie for our community and to continue to sustain Camp Beauregard. Working with the Louisiana Department of Corrections, we have developed a partnership that has proven beneficial to both of us.”

By Thursday morning, however, Wagner was singing a different tune—that is, if he did in fact utter the statement attributed to him by the governor’s press office in the first place. He quickly notified LeBlanc to reiterate his opposition to the plan.

Anderson was quoted as saying Avoyelles Correctional Center “represents an opportunity for this sheriff’s office to provide a basis for continued employment of those correctional officers in Avoyelles Parish.” Later, like Wagner, he would deny ever having agreed to take over the 1,564-bed prison.

Where were Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Hal Turner and LeBlanc when the dust had settled on Thursday? Well, Turner didn’t have much to say. He apparently said enough on Wednesday through the governor’s press handout. “Today’s announcement is further evidence of the strong partnership Louisiana sheriffs have with the Department of Correction,” he gushed.

LeBlanc, however, was not so reticent, sniffing “In the event the Avoyelles and Rapides Parish sheriffs do not want to take over these prisons, the department will begin to seek private sector bids on the facilities to move forward with their sale/operations.”

Jindal, meanwhile, has had little to say. Of course, it’s hard to speak with egg all over your face and with your credibility having taken a hit broadside.

So, what, exactly, happened? How did such a monumental misunderstanding of such epic proportions occur?

Simple.

Either somebody (read: Jindal) jumped the gun with an announcement that turned out to be embarrassingly premature, ill-advised, and inaccurate, or

Somebody (read: two sheriffs) lied after receiving a groundswell of protests from local residents.

This much is known: State Reps Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) and Chris Roy (D-Alexandria) and State Sen. Joe McPherson (D-Woodworth) got an earful from their constituents. The main complaints were that they (the citizenry) were not informed about the planned transfers, had seen nothing to convince them that the state would save money or that employees would not have their salaries cut or worse, lose their jobs.

But we digress. Back to what happened.

An administration official close to the situation says flatly that the sheriffs are lying. “They knew about this and they agreed to it,” he said. “The real screw-up was that there was nothing in writing. Nobody in the governor’s office had them sign off on something as simple as an agreement in principle and it gave the sheriffs deniability. It gave them the chance they needed to weasel out of the deal.”

So why in the name of everything neat and binding didn’t Jindal’s boys get the sheriffs’ signatures on a document of some sort? No one but Jindal’s boys can answer that one.

It also brings into question his ability to act like a governor. The state pays local sheriffs in every parish $31.51 per day for each state prisoner housed in local jails and the sheriffs love the arrangement. With the 1,564-beds in Avoyelles and another 580 in Dabadie, that’s potentially a combined income of more than $24.6 million per year for the two sheriffs’ offices. What’s not to love about a sweet deal like that?

Practically any governor dating all the way back to Huey Long would have had buses waiting at the gates of both facilities come dawn Thursday morning to remove all state prisoners from the facilities in retaliation for the sheriffs’ having the temerity to show him up in such a brazen manner.

It would have been one of the better—and one of the more effective—shows of force by a governor since Huey Long coerced 15 state senators to sign his infamous “Round Robin” statement, pledging to vote “not guilty” in his 1929 impeachment trial, though maybe not as clever as brother Earl’s firing the head of state hospitals in 1959 and replacing him with a crony who subsequently ordered Earl’s release from a state mental hospital in Mandeville. Such muscle-flexing sends a clear message as to exactly who is in charge.

Instead, Rhode Scholar Jindal, Louisiana’s Ivy League governor, let two first term sheriffs make him look silly.

And even though he insists he has the job he wants, this latest debacle begs the question: What will happen if he is elected president and participates in an economic summit with Vladimir Putin? Or Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao?

It could get ugly.

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Controversy surrounding JAT Bureau of Services and Management just won’t go away, despite the fact that the Montgomery, Alabama, firm’s million dollar contract with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was terminated last month.

Former employees of the firm have not received their final paychecks from the company even though the state made a final payment of $27,693.19 on the company’s contract two weeks ago, according to Jill Boudreaux, undersecretary of Public Safety Services.

JAT’s problems first surfaced in early December when it was learned that security guards employed by the firm either had not been paid or paychecks that were paid bounced. The company was under contract to provide security services to 15 state office buildings and employed 74 guards in Baton Rouge.

JAT employs 200 persons overall and had 2009 revenues of $2 million, according to information provided on its web page. JAT Chairman Arthur Coleman has never returned phone calls made to his offices in Montgomery.

The state, when issuing its request for proposals (RFP) from security companies, apparently did not require that bidders post either a bid bond or performance bond though the RFP did stipulate that bidders carry liability insurance.

Soon after Capitol News Service and Louisiana Voice ran the story about the bounced paychecks, JAT posted a one-page memorandum threatening to fire any employee who complained about not receiving a paycheck or about a bounced check.

Boudreaux, in an email to Louisiana Voice, said the final payment of $27,693.19 was made to JAT on Feb. 9.

Boudreaux was initially asked what recourse is available to the state to requirement payment to JAT’s former employees. She referred that question to either State Purchasing or the Attorney General’s office.

One source said the Attorney General’s office was looking into the matter and had been in touch with the Division of Administration in efforts to obtain payments for the former JAT employees.

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Okay, readers, LouisianaVoice is introducing a new game for everyone to play. It’s called JINDAL BINGO.

You play it just like you play regular bingo except instead of letters and numbers, Jindal catch-phrases will be called out and when you have a square that is labeled with the catch-phrase that is called, you cover it with a kernel of pure corn. The first person to complete a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal line with five straight kernels is the winner. The prize, we’re sorry to say, is another four years of Jindalisms.

Okay, get your cards ready and let’s play:

We’re in the state 90% of the time

Transparency

Stop whining

I have the job I want

Do more with less

Will be forthcoming

Veterans’ medals

A great idea!

Privatize

Three things:

Leadership and Crisis

Absolutely

BP

Merge UNO and SUNO (No one in New Orleans voted for me anyway)

Berms

No pay raise for classified employees

More berms

Gustav

Merge Tech and Grambling? No way. North Louisiana loves me.

Screw up State Employee Health Insurance Contract

Blame the moratorium for everything

Will not take stimulus money

Took stimulus money but didn’t tell anyone

FREE SPACE: DID NOT ENDORSE VITTER

Most ethical administration

Student-based budgeting

Building a better Louisiana

Race to the Top. No, wait. TOPS. I meant TOPS.

Chicken plant

Vitter who?

North Louisiana Protestant church testimony

Veterans Honor Medals

Deep Water Horizon

Photo-op

Hands-on leadership

Accountability

Tax breaks

No tax increase

P.S. Please feel free to log on and add any other Jindalisms you can recall. We need as many as possible to make the game competitive.

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By Tom Aswell

Saturday, February 19, will mark the 25th anniversary of one of the most sensational high-profile killings to rock Baton Rouge since the 1935 assassination of U.S. Sen. Huey Long.

The brutal murder of Barry Seal, 46, at a Baton Rouge halfway house in 1986 would send shock waves up and down the political spectrum. It would focus the glare of the media spotlight on not only the Colombian Medellin Cartel, but also on the FBI and CIA as well as such political icons as then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and Oliver North.

Most of all, Seal’s murder would lay bare for all the world to see the seamy underbelly of America’s duplicitous war on drugs, and how drug smuggling was in fact sanctioned by powerful men in order to advance a hidden agenda. That agenda would turn up in the sordid details of the Iran-Contra scandal.

Seal’s life—and death—would seem a perfect fit for Hollywood. In fact, there was a made-for-cable movie, Double Crossed, that starred Dennis Hopper as Seal.

Seal, who began flying at age of 15, flew weapons to Fidel Castro in 1958 when Castro was fighting to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. It was only after Castro succeeded in overthrowing Batista in 1959 and declared himself a Marxist that other forces then began their efforts to overthrow Castro.

In 1964, Seal went to work for TWA and became their youngest 707 captain and later their youngest 747 captain. He was fired by TWA after his 1972 arrest in New Orleans on charges of flying explosives to anti-Castro Cubans in Mexico. The buyer, it turned out, was a federal agent. Soon after that, Seal turned to drug smuggling and subsequently was arrested in Honduras with 40 kilos of cocaine worth a reported $25 million.

He spent nine months in a Honduran prison and while there, met William Roger Reeves, a fellow prisoner who worked for the Ochoa family of Medellin, Colombia. Reeves, Ochoa’s New Orleans business manager, brought Seal into what in 1982 officially became the Medellin Cartel after Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar joined forces to form a 2,000-man army to destroy M-19, the Marxist revolutionary group that was causing problems for the Colombian drug barons.

By 1982, Seal was making regular runs on behalf of the Medellin Cartel, bringing tons of cocaine into the U.S. It was at this time that he moved his operations from Baton Rouge to Mena, Arkansas. Whether known or not at the time by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, the use of the Mena airport by Seal and others would be used by detractors in efforts to tie Clinton to drug smuggling conspiracies, especially during his first four years as President.

In 1984, Seal was indicted in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on charges of smuggling Quaaludes and money laundering. Facing a 10-year prison sentence, he decided to flip but federal prosecutors were not interested in a deal so he simply went over their heads. He flew to Washington and met with two members of Vice President George Bush’s Task Force on Drugs.

In secret testimony before the task force, Seal said the Medellin Cartel had cut a deal with the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The agreement, Seal said, called for the cartel to give a cut of drug profits to the Sandinistas in exchange for use of an airfield in Managua as a trans-shipment point for narcotics.

That news proved too enticing for President Reagan who was eager to wage an all-out war on the Sandinistas. Because Reagan feared another communist regime in the Western Hemisphere, Seal was enlisted as an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

By this time, Seal had purchased a C-123. The larger transport plane, which he affectionately referred to as The Fat Lady, was needed to haul tons of cocaine for the cartel. As part of his agreement with DEA, he rigged the C-123 with a hidden camera and was able to photograph Pablo Escobar helping Nicaraguan soldiers load 1,200 kilos of cocaine at the Managua airport. Reagan was ecstatic and went on national television shortly afterwards, waving the photograph given to him by Col. Oliver North and denouncing the Sandinistas as “drug smugglers corrupting American youth.”

As a result of Seal’s cooperation, the judge in his Florida case praised Seal and reduced his sentence to six months probation.

North, meanwhile, was busy orchestrating a complicated arms deal with Iran in negotiations to obtain Iran’s help in freeing seven American hostages held by pro-Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. The U.S. would conceal the transactions by selling the weapons first to Israel and then re-selling them at significant “off the books” markups to Iran’s Islamist government for use in its war with Iraq. Despite several such transactions, it would take years to obtain freedom for all the prisoners.

Part of the $48 million paid by Iran to the U.S. for the Hawk and TOW missiles was in turn used to fund the Contras in their fight against the Marxist Sandinistas. This was in direct violation of a 1984 law banning such aid.

In December of 1984, Seal was arrested in Louisiana for flying a cargo of marijuana into the state. U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola was bound by the Florida plea agreement and was furious at being powerless to put Seal away.

Polozola on December 20, 1985, invoked the sentence handed down by the Florida judge and sentenced Seal to six months supervised probation, taking the occasion to say that people like Seal were “the lowest, most despicable people I can think of.” A condition of the sentence was that he had to spend every night, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., at the Salvation Army halfway house on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge. Polozola further stipulated that Seal could not carry a gun or hire armed bodyguards.

Seal’s attorney, Lewis Unglesby, told Polozola his ruling amounted to a death sentence for his client. Seal told friends that the judge “made me a clay pigeon.”

At 6 p.m. on February 19, 1986, Seal promptly drove up to the Salvation Army in his white Cadillac. As he parked his car, he was approached by a man carrying an assault weapon. Two quick bursts riddled Seal’s head and chest, killing him instantly.

On March 27, a state grand jury in Baton Rouge indicted Miguel Velez, Bemardo Antonio Vasquez, Luis Quintero, and Jose Renteria-Campo for the murder. In May of 1987, a jury found Vasquez, Velez, and Quintero guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced all three to life in prison without parole. Renteria-Campo was extradited to Miami to be tried on federal weapons charges.

Unglesby said the Medellin Cartel killed Seal to prevent the extradition of Medellin Cartel co-leader Jorge Ochoa from Spain, where he was hiding. U.S. authorities wanted to put him on trial for drug smuggling. “It worked,” Unglesby said. “Ochoa wasn’t extradited.”

But even in death, Seal would not go away easily.

On March 3, 1986, only two weeks after Seal was murdered, Louisiana Attorney General William Guste hand-delivered a five-page letter to U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. In his letter, Guste made a formal request for a complete investigation with respect to the government’s relationship with and handling of Seal.

“In October, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Narcotics and Drug Interdiction of the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, I had presided over a seminar at which Barry Seal had testified,” Guste continued.

“His purpose there was to inform the commission and top United States officials of the methods and equipment used by drug smugglers….and (he) was scheduled to be a key witness in the government’s case against Jorge Ochoa-Vasques, the head of one of the largest drug cartels in the world. WHY WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT WITNESS NOT GIVEN PROTECTIOIN WHETHER HE WANTED IT OR NOT?” Guste asked, using all capital letters.

There was no word as to whether or not Meese ever responded to Guste’s letter.

Seven months after Guste delivered his letter to Meese, on October 5, 1986, a Sandinista patrol shot down a C-123 cargo plane that was supplying the Contras. Eugene Hasenfus, who was on board the plane, survived the crash and told his captors that he thought the CIA was behind the operation to supply the Contras.

It proved to be the singular event that blew the Iran-Contra scandal wide open. The C-123 that had been shot down was The Fat Lady, Seal’s beloved cargo plane. Somehow, the plane had fallen into the hands of Oliver North and his covert operation.

Hasenfus said that was by sheer coincidence.

That’s not likely. Seal’s offshore bank accounts disappeared and the IRS filed a multi-million dollar lien against his assets. His property, including his home and all his airplanes, were seized. Seal’s wife was said to have found George Bush’s private phone number in Seal’s wallet. The C-123 was ultimately sold to a company with connections to the CIA and was shot down soon afterwards.

In 1993, Colombian and U.S. authorities cornered Pablo Escobar at a house in Medellin and killed the drug kingpin in a shootout.

The CIA, DEA, and State Department have each been implicated in various drug trafficking enterprises that were used to fund illegal covert operations in nations all over the globe.

A quarter-century later, America’s war on drugs continues at a cost of $52 billion per year, or $1600 for every second of every day. That investment includes not only the cost of preventative measures, but also the cost of housing fully 20 percent of all federal and state prison inmates (more than 400,000) for drug-related offenses.

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