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Archive for June, 2019

When I decided to write a book about corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement in sheriffs’ departments, I could have written a book about the worst of the worst in all 50 states. A book of that magnitude would, in all likelihood, comprise several volumes.

Instead, I decided to narrow the focus to just Louisiana when I wrote Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

BOOK COVER

Turns out, it’s downright uncanny how similar a Louisiana sheriff’s office is to sheriffs’ offices in other states.

Take the former sheriff of Covington County, Alabama, which sits adjacent to the Florida panhandle, just a few miles due north of Destin.

When challenger Blake Turman defeated incumbent sheriff DENNIS MEEKS, Turman walked into his new office only to find that records had been destroyed and that tens of thousands of public dollars were missing from sheriff’s office public accounts. Also missing were more than $100,000 of military surplus equipment and a $2,800 closed-circuit camera system.

It was pretty much the same story in Marshall County, Alabama, when Phil Sims defeated longtime Sheriff J. SCOTT WALLS. When Sims took over for Walls, he found a box of government-issued smartphones, each with multiple holes drilled through them. Hard drives had been removed from computers in the former sheriff’s and his chief deputy’s offices. As with the case of Covington County, reams of records were missing. Even more alarming, Sims discovered that in the months following Walls’s loss, tens of thousands of dollars from the sheriff’s office’s general fund had been wired to the outgoing sheriff and more than $30,000 was missing from the commissary fund.

In fact, nine outgoing sheriffs in ALABAMA took steps that their successors said negatively affected their ability to perform their new jobs.

Chapters 10 and 26 of Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs describe similar events in two Louisiana parishes, Tangipahoa and St. Tammany.

When Daniel Edwards defeated Edward Layrisson in 2003, he didn’t take office until mid-2004 and when he did, he found an office that was suffocating under a $722,000 IRS lien, frozen bank accounts and computers wiped clean and serving no function other than “oversize paper weights.”

Before that, when Layrisson defeated Daniel Edwards’s father, Frank Edwards, back in 1979, the office was in dire financial straits. Deputies had been laid off and equipment sold off to the point that the department had only two patrol units, a few rifles, and some microfilming equipment. This despite the fact that Frank Edwards, while in office, had somehow found the funds to purchase 35,000 sportsman license holders embossed with “Compliments of Frank M. Edwards, Sheriff,” 20,000 pocket-sized first aid kits and 200 boxes of candy-coated gum. A state auditor’s report said that Edwards rented his own farm to the sheriff’s office for “undercover investigations” for $500 per month and paid Tom Gillen, who managed his unsuccessful re-election campaign, $20,000 for a history of the parish which was never published.

Just down I-12 a few miles is St. Tammany Parish where, in 2015, Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith pulled off an improbable upset of incumbent Sheriff Jack Strain.

The night he took the oath of office, he dispatched several deputies to enter the parish work release building in Slidell to take control of the center. What they discovered were missing security cameras and televisions and computers containing information about inmates gone, all removed by St. Tammany Workforce Solutions as its personnel walked out the door. While legal since the company had purchased the equipment, it made for a difficult transition for the new administration.

Of course, Strain had other problems as well, having been recently arrested on June 11 on state charges of rape, incest and indecent behavior with a juvenile. As it happened, I had submitted the manuscript to the printer earlier that day and, upon hearing of the arrest, had to retrieve it and update the chapter on Strain.

These are just two of the stories contained in the 44 chapters of the 370-page book. There are even a couple of humorous stories involving sheriffs of two northeast Louisiana parishes.

If you really want to know how Louisiana sheriffs’ departments can skate on the thin edge of the law, you will want to read this book. The cost is $30. You can order by clicking on the yellow Donate Button with Credit Cards button to the upper right. Be sure to send an email to louisianavoice@outlook.com giving me your mailing address. If that doesn’t work for you, you can mail a check to me, Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727 for your signed copy.

 

 

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By Stephen Winham

Those familiar with Tom Aswell’s work will know he is meticulous in his research – For proof, pick up a copy of his earlier book, Louisiana Rocks. In Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (click HERE to view book cover), Aswell continues the diligence of his encyclopedic volume on rock music history and in his seminal book about our immediate past governor – Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession, coupling it with the courageous journalism reflected in his LouisianaVoice blog. Despite the seriousness nature of this book, he manages to work in a little humor and ends with humorous anecdotes from his personal experiences – as you may know, in another life he was a stand up comedian.

An honest evaluation of the power used and abused in our justice system requires courage – and focusing on sheriffs is particularly courageous.

The late Harry Lee—elected seven times as sheriff of Jefferson Parish once said, “Why would I want to be governor when I can be king?” [Wikipedia]

Aswell notes that sheriffs are uniquely powerful and have been so for centuries. In the United States they are essentially bound only by the state and U. S. constitutions and accountable only to the electorate of their jurisdictions. Sheriffs are not term-limited and generally spend many years in office. Look at your own parish sheriff and his predecessors and you will see there is very little turnover. And while state law provides minimum qualifications for deputy sheriffs, it does not do the same for the “high sheriffs,” so lack of law enforcement experience is not an impediment to election.

Those of us who grew up in Louisiana know that local governments are run by the “courthouse gang” of local elected officials and state politicians still believe they need their support to win elections. Without question, the most powerful and independent member of that group is the sheriff, who is also a member of the most powerful political lobbying group in the state, the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Not only do sheriffs hold considerable sway with lawmakers, but governors are known to take their recommendations for certain appointments, including the heads of state police and the corrections system. Our current governor comes from a family of sheriffs.

Nineteenth century politician Lord Acton is best known for his statement, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Aswell sets out to see how true that statement is among Louisiana’s sheriffs. Louisiana has 64 criminal sheriffs, one in each parish (county). Aswell does not paint all our sheriffs with a broad brush, but he details things ranging from ignorance of the law through negligence and theft all the way to the worst brutality imaginable among 34 sheriffs’ offices and a handful of non-sheriff law enforcement agencies in our state. As he notes, the office of sheriff has existed as a powerful entity for many centuries here and abroad.

Beginning with the Kefauver Crime Commission in 1951, Aswell traces actions by some sheriffs across our state that would, in the absence of the right connections, net most of us time in a parish jail or a state or federal prison. He details human rights violations, nepotism, favoritism, discrimination, racism, sexism, organized crime connections, ignorance (for a price) of gambling and prostitution, theft of public property and other actions anybody should clearly see as wrong – things that, as Lord Acton’s statement implies, indicate that as power grows, moral senses tend to diminish.

I recommend this book to anybody seeking insight into our justice system, particularly the law enforcement side and specifically sheriffs. It represents years of work and documentation of facts and experts’ opinions. It is exhaustive and hard to absorb in one or two sittings. I recommend you read 3 – 5 chapters at a time to get the full effect.

It is sometimes hard to figure why people continue to re-elect some of the more corrupt of our sheriffs, but not hard to see how open opposition is limited by the power vested in the office. I have always said the best approach to our system of justice is to avoid it whenever possible and this book confirms that belief.

The book is well worth it’s $30 price. To pre-order your signed copy, you can click on the yellow button at the upper right. It looks like this:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

When you do, please provide your name and mailing address by sending an email to:

louisianavoice@outlook.com.

If you don’t see the donate button, it’s probably because you opened an email link to the story (there have been issues with that). You may also order the book by sending a check for $30 to:

Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727.

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My third—and by far, most controversial—nonfiction book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption (Claitor’s Publishing), is scheduled to launch on July 1.

Of the millions of words that have been spoken and written about political power brokers in America, one local entity has been consistently overlooked. America’s sheriffs fly under the political radar, but the work they do on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate can—and often does—determine the outcome of elections. Candidates for offices from U.S. Senate to governor to state legislator actively solicit the endorsement of sheriffs’ associations and success at the polls often is determined by whether or not those endorsements are forthcoming.

Aside from sporadic occasions, no one has ever written anything about the power of and abuses committed by Louisiana sheriffs.

Until now.

Older than the presidency, the office of sheriff pre-dates the republic itself by more than a century. The office is accountable solely to the U.S. and state constitutions—to the specific exclusion of the president, Congress, and the governor, making the sheriff the single most powerful person in a county or parish. The late Louisiana political writer John Maginnis recognized that power when he wrote that only two elected offices really matter in Louisiana: governor and sheriff.

That much power wielded by sheriffs lacking qualifications can lead to abuses that often go unreported. There has never been anything written about the power of and abuses committed by Louisiana sheriffs in such depth and detail before now. My book shines the spotlight on cases of abuse, malfeasance, theft, murder and official protection of—and in some cases, actual participation in—gambling and prostitution.”

Among the specific cases discussed in the book:

  • The sheriff of a north Louisiana parish and his chief deputy were actively involved with the Ku Klux Klan and figured in no fewer than eight civil rights murders in the 1950s.
  • A south Louisiana sheriff was indicted by a federal grand jury for physical and mental abuse of African-American prisoners in his jail, only to be acquitted, even as several of his deputies were convicted.
  • A former north Louisiana sheriff was sentenced to federal prison following his conviction of drug trafficking.
  • One former sheriff is said to have been a bag man for Mafia boss Carlos Marcello.
  • A current sheriff obtained a warrant to raid the home of an internet blogger whose only offense was posting remarks critical of the sheriff.
  • A sheriff defeated for re-election by a former deputy planted a bomb that blew off the foot of his successor.
  • A north Louisiana sheriff and a district attorney conspired to convict a national rodeo champion for a double murder that he did not commit.
  • A Shreveport commissioner of Public was directly involved in the shotgun murder of a public relations consultant who had worked in his re-election campaign.
  • Three consecutive sheriffs of one Louisiana parish were sentenced to prison terms.

I have published two previous books with Pelican Publishing: Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll, and Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Additionally, I edited books for two other authors: With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion: From Angola to Free Man, by Forest Hammond-Martin, Sr., and Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal, by retired FBI agent Del Hahn.

My credentials

Unabashedly putting modesty aside, I have won numerous awards for breaking news, feature and investigative reporting during a distinguished career as a reporter for The Shreveport Times, the Monroe Morning World, the Shreveport Journal and the Baton Rouge State-Times, and as managing editor of the Ruston Daily Leader. A native of Ruston, LA and a 1970 graduate of Louisiana Tech, I live with my wife, Betty, and our three dogs, in Denham Springs, LA.

The book sells for $30 (no shipping or taxes, I eat those). Just 30 bucks and it’s yours: 370 pages chock full of eye-opening stories about the worst of the worst in Louisiana law enforcement. To pre-order your (gasp! signed copy, click on the yellow DONATE button to the upper right of this post. Or, you can order by mail by sending your check to:

LouisianaVoice, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

For additional information on the book or to inquire about speaking engagements or book signings, contact me by email at: louisianavoice@outlook.com

Also (and this is important: if you order by PayPal (clicking on the DONATE button), be sure to SEND ME A SEPARATE EMAIL, GIVING YOUR MAILING ADDRESS.

WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT LOUISIANA’S ROGUE SHERIFFS:

 

“Tom’s meticulously researched book documenting the self-serving decisions, arrogance and greed that led to the downfall and political ruin of several Louisiana sheriffs is an enjoyable read for anyone but should be required reading for public servants everywhere.”

—Rafael C. Goyeneche, III, President, New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission

 

“If you want to understand what makes Louisiana a law unto itself, you need to read this book.”

—-James Gill, columnist, New Orleans Advocate

 

Tom Aswell is an expert guide to the rogue’s gallery of Bayou State lawmen who ruled Louisiana parishes for too long.

—Bob Mann, author

 

As a former sheriff, I personally knew many of the deceased “legends,” and of course, most of the living. I should mention that I am ecstatic that I didn’t make the cut to be included in its cast of characters.

—Anthony G. “Tony” Falterman, former sheriff and district attorney

 

Those familiar with Tom Aswell’s work will know he is meticulous in his research. I recommend this book to anybody seeking insight into our justice system, particularly the law enforcement side and specifically sheriffs.

—Stephen Winham, Louisiana State Budget Director (Ret.)

 

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I intended to limit my “You Might be a Trumpster” takeoff on Jeff Foxworthy’s You Might be a Redneck, but the suggestions started piling up in my inbox, so I was sorta kinda forced into Volume II:

  • If you graduated from the Wharton School of Finance in 1968 and claim that you studied the Laffer Curve “for many years” while there when the Laffer Curve was first revealed (on a napkin) in 1974…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think Jan and Dean’s Dead Man’s Curve was a failed Democrat economic plan…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you believe arming teachers, preachers, fast food and Wall Mart customers will bring a halt to mass shootings…you might be a Trumpster
  • If you bring your mistress along on a family ski vacation…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your hair style looks like the string in a weed whacker gone bad…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you play the golf club championship alone and declare yourself club champion…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you insist on non-disclosure agreements from your employees…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you are a fan of Rosanne Barr, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Dennis Rodman…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you criticize President Obama for not visiting Louisiana flood damaged areas but then keep your appointment to meet with Kayan West the day after Hurricane Michael destroys two cities in Florida…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you hold a reception in the White House to honor the 2018 Boston Red Socks…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If your favorite Christmas carol is Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think Puerto Rico only in terms of “an island surrounded by big water”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you believe that Sean Hannity is a professional journalist and that media licenses be revoked over news coverage you don’t like…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you threatened to revoke the U.S. citizenship of all Puerto Ricans because they are “not part of the American race”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think Calculus is where you get the milk for your cereal…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you think infrastructure is what kids build with Legos…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you mock women who claimed he sexually assaulted them by saying they weren’t attractive enough to earn your attention…you might be a Trumpster. (Face it, evangelicals, you just can’t adhere to Christ’s teachings and support the caging of children like animals. I’m sorry, you just can’t.]
  • If you can convince evangelicals to surrender every scintilla of Christianity in order to justify supporting your sorry ass…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you EVER tweeted, “Any negative polls are fake news”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you EVER tweeted, “Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest—and you all know it”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you EVER tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you have taught your followers how to say “Fake News,” “No Collusion,” “Witch Hunt,” and “Lock her up” the way a good cult should…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “I think I’m much more humble than you would understand”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well been documented, are various other parts of my body” (are you listening, evangelicals?)…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “What’s that?” when told you just attacked a Gold Star family…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things”…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “Nobody respects women more than me,” and three minutes later, said, “Such a nasty woman” (are you listening, evangelicals?)…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you tried to hide 300 filthy, malnourished children when the conditions in which they were being forced to live were exposed by secretly moving them somewhere else…you might be a Trumpster…but you’re certainly no Christian. In fact, you’re not even a decent human being.
  • If you ever said, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass” (are you listening, evangelicals? Are you listening, women?)…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “Women: you have to treat them like s**t” (are you listening, evangelicals? Are you listening, women?)…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10” (are you listening, women?)…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever boasted that his building was now the tallest in downtown Manhattan after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center…you might be a Trumpster.
  • If you ever said, “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated”…you have just explained, in the most graphic terms, the Trumpster phenomenon in this country.

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No headline needed

Faith leaders and anti-abortion groups are ramping up their efforts to reelect President Trump, rewarding a president who has become an unlikely hero of the Christian right because of his commitment to socially conservative causes.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) will spend tens of millions of dollars on a voter mobilization effort that aims to register 1 million Christians in key battleground states and reach 30 million people nationwide.

The group, which is led by conservative activist Ralph Reed, will pump literature into more than 100,000 churches across 18 states, primarily focusing on the presidential battlegrounds but also with an eye on contested House and Senate races.

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