When Lloyd Grafton tendered his resignation from the Louisiana State Police Commission over the shoddy way the commission had forced Executive Director Cathy Derbonne out the month before, it prompted a heated exchange between Grafton and Jared Caruso-Riecke, one of the newer members of the commission which has undergone considerable change in makeup in the past 12 months.
The confrontation between the two also prompted a few choice comments from member Calvin Braxton Jr. of Natchitoches who expressed his displeasure at the direction the commission, the State Police equivalent of the Civil Service Commission, has been going over the past year.
The commission has become increasingly politicized as it has come under the influence of the State Police upper management and the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA). The appointments of Caruso-Riecke of Covington and Monica Manzella of New Orleans, along with the election of T.J. Doss, the State Police representative on the commission, as its president only served to accelerate that shift.
The hiring of outside legal counsel Taylor Townsend, a former state senator and a political supporter of Gov. John Bel Edwards, to conduct a perfunctory investigation of political activity by LSTA members has further distanced the commission from even any pretense of functioning as an independent body.
Manzella, appointed last October, is an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans and has signed off on Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) contracts between the City of New Orleans and State Police. Under LACE, state police are paid by the local district attorney to help beef up traffic enforcement. Some have characterized her work on the contracts and her appointment to the commission as a possible conflict of interest.
But with last week’s outburst over Grafton’s comments about his perceived lack of integrity on the commission, it is Caruso-Riecke who bears a closer look because of his association with a racing team that openly boasts of evading law enforcement in attempting to set new cross-country speed records at speeds of up to 140 mph on public highways.
Caruso-Riecke, of Covington, heads up Riecke Construction which has “designed, acquired, and built numerous commercial, residential, and industrial developments throughout the Gulf South for several generations,” reads an online biography of CARUSO-RIECKE. Though he is involved in several other business enterprises, the “several generations” hints that the company’s financial success may have pre-dated his involvement in its operation and that he now benefits from the labors of his predecessors.
(Of course, it’s possible that he took over a mediocre company and propelled it to outrageous success through hard work and shrewd business tactics. On the other hand, it would appear problematic for anyone to maintain a hectic playboy persona while occupied with building a company from the ground up.)
Regardless, Caruso-Riecke, who also stars in a TV reality show, pointed out in January that he takes no per diem or mileage for attending commission meetings. But with $70 million in the bank, why would he? He loves to perpetuate his image of a fast-living bon vivant as evidenced by several online YouTube videos.
In one, he is interviewed by a member of his “Team Riecke” about the modifications to a Mercedes used in cross-country rally competition. Features include two in-dash police scanners, each with more than 1,000 channels, plus a handheld scanner and several cellphones—all used to evade law enforcement on public highways.
At one point, as Riecke pontificates on the features of his rally car in the YouTube INTERVIEW, he reaches into the back seat and retrieves a cover for the police scanners, explaining as he does so (to the amusement of the interviewer) that some states “frown” on such scanner equipment. The cover, when put in place, conceals the scanners and makes the dash appear as a solid component.
One might think he is a modern-day Burt Reynolds reprising his Smoky and the Bandit role—except Burt ain’t nearly cool enough; Burt doesn’t perch a pair of sporty, expensive sunglasses on his forehead in the same cool manner that Caruso-Riecke does.
In the second YouTube POST (warning: graphic language), Riecke places a casual $50,000 bet that another team, obviously friends, can’t beat the record of 32 hours, 51 minutes for driving from New York to Los Angeles. As the bet is made and as team members prepare to depart, one member boasts that the team has 10 separate license plates to help evade law enforcement as he demonstrates a quick plate change for the camera. He explains that if they are spotted and they hear officers on the scanner giving out their plate numbers, they can pull over and switch plates.
The team succeeds in making the New York to L.A. run in 31 hours, 59 minutes, eclipsing the old record by 52 minutes. At one point, they reveal they have averaged about 140 mph over a single 500-mile stretch.
So, what it’s now come down to is that in vetting appointees to the Louisiana State Police Commission, Gov. Edwards has selected a man last June whose hobby is evading law enforcement as he races around the country on public highways at speeds far exceeding 100 mph, laughing about concealing police scanners and apparently condoning switching license plates to further avoid arrest.
Apparently, he thinks he is Peter Pan and will never have to grow up.
And when he’s not behind the wheel, he casually bets against someone’s ability to average 90 mph from New York to Los Angeles. That’s an average speed, folks, for 2800 miles, but at speeds up to 140 mph in some stretches. He so cool that he loses a $50,000 bet in the same blasé manner others would in giving a homeless man a buck or two at a busy intersection.
And now he’s one of the newest appointments to the commission charged with maintaining the integrity of the Louisiana State Police by making sure officers and management play by the rules.
What’s wrong with this picture?
For openers, it should cause one to wonder about integrity on so many levels—that same integrity that Grafton attempted to address but was shouted down by Caruso-Riecke.
Which begs the question of how Caruso-Riecke got appointed in the first place.
Well, when all else fails, follow the money.
For starters, here are just a few political contributions by Caruso-Riecke and his companies:
- Bobby Jindal—$16,000;
- John Kennedy—$1,000;
- Walter Reed—$7,000;
- Mike Strain—$9,500;
- Daniel Edwards (Gov. John Bel Edwards’ brother and Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish—$4,500;
- John Bel Edwards—$5,500.
You’d think that someone with a net worth of $70 million could’ve been a little more generous with the one who would appoint him to his present position on the commission.