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Archive for the ‘ATC’ Category

The State of Louisiana shelled out almost a half-million dollars over a three-year period to a single law firm to defend two lawsuits against the former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC)—both of which went against the state.

Records obtained from the Division of Administration reveal that both lawsuits, defended by Renee Culotta of the New Orleans law firm of Frilot, LLC, were settled in favor of the plaintiffs. The most recent of the two, filed by one current ATC and two former agents, all African-Americans, was settled for $250,000.

Prior to that, the case of another former agent, Lisa Pike, was also settled but the terms of that settlement were held confidential by the court.

ATC, under the leadership of former director Troy Hebert, was riddled with controversy and in the end, possible criminal wrongdoing, according to no less authority than Hebert himself. Hebert, at one point in the proceedings of yet a third pending CIVIL ACTION against him, filed a MEMORANDUM in Support of his Motion for Protective Order.

In the LAWSUIT filed by Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry Hingle of Jefferson Parish, the case that was settled recently for $250,000, Frilot was paid $309,00 in attorney fees–$150,000 more than the final settlement.

Another $186,400 was spent by the State in defense of the Lisa Pike matter.

PAYMENTS TO FRILOT

And while the terms of that settlement are not known, it might seem prudent for the State to consider cutting its losses in all litigation pertaining to Hebert’s stormy tenure as Bobby Jindal’s boy at ATC.

For that matter, how far must a given case proceed for the defendant—in this case, the State—to realize it is defending the indefensible? At what point should the decision to walk away be made before wasting more taxpayer dollars?

Hebert’s deposition, taken in December 2016 in which he refused to answer questions on the grounds that it might leave him exposed to criminal prosecution should have been the signal to the State to throw in the towel and settle. What better justification could there be to settle? Why keep the meter running? That, nonetheless, is precisely what the State elected to do.

Throwing good money after bad has just always seemed like a bad proposition in any endeavor and these cases are no exception.

 

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Former Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter was acquitted of all the dubious charges brought against him by the Jindal administration after Painter refused to bend the rules for granting alcohol permits to a vendor for Tom Benson’s Champions’ Square in New Orleans. (See our original story HERE.)

But now, three years after his hard-fought battle to clear his name, events are only now coming to light that illustrate just how far the Jindal administration was willing to go in violating Painter’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure in order to build what it thought would be a slam dunk criminal case against him.

Instead, the state ended up having to pay Painter’s legal fees of $474,000.

Documents obtained by LouisianaVoice also show that investigators lied—or at least distorted the truth beyond recognition—about Painter and that the state tampered with and/or destroyed crucial evidence, much of it advantageous to Painter’s case.

Benson, after all, was a huge contributor to Jindal campaigns and the state’s agreeing to lease office space from Benson Towers at highly inflated rates apparently was not enough for the owner of the Saints; that liquor permit needed to be approved, rules notwithstanding, and when Painter insisted on playing by the book, he was called before the governor and summarily fired and federal charges of sexual harassment were doggedly pursued by an administration eager to put him away for good.

But he fooled them. He was acquitted, and he filed a civil lawsuit against his accuser, which he won at the trial court level but lost on appeal (See story HERE). He currently has another civil lawsuit pending against the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Now the state is dragging that litigation out in the hopes that with his limited finances and the state’s ability to draw on taxpayer funds indefinitely, he can be waited out until he no longer has the financial resources to seek the justice due him.

Briefs, motions, requests of production of documents, interrogatories, continuances—all designed to extend the fight and to keep the lawyers’ meters running and the court costs mounting—are the tactics of a defendant fearful of an adverse ruling. If that were not the case, it would be to the state’s advantage to try the case ASAP.

And never mind that every brief, every motion, every interrogatory, every request for production, and every continuance means the state’s defense attorneys are getting richer and richer—all at the expense of taxpayers who are the ones paying the state’s legal bills.

But all that aside, LouisianaVoice has come into possession of documents that clearly show the state was in violation of Painter’s constitutional rights and that an investigator for OIG simply colored the truth in the reports of the OIG “investigation” of complaints against him.

That investigator, who now works for the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office, was inexplicably dismissed from Painter’s civil lawsuit against the state by the First Circuit Court of Appeal. Painter has taken writs on that decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court as that civil litigation rocks on in its sixth year of existence. I’ll get back to him momentarily.

The events leading up to Painter’s firing and subsequent federal indictment began innocently enough with a March 29, 2010, letter to Painter from then-Department of Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges. She was writing pursuant to a complaint lodged by ATC employee Kelli Suire who would later the catalyst in Painter’s firing. Bridges, however found no violations by Painter regarding the complaint of “unprofessional” behavior toward Suire, but said concerns about his management style would be left “to the proper authority to discuss with you at a later date.”

Then on Aug. 13, 2010, more than four months following Bridges’s letter, Baton Rouge television station WBRZ reported that Painter “resigned” and the OIG’s office simultaneously raided ATC offices, seizing Painter’s state desktop and laptop computers, three thumb drives, notes, affidavits, reports, maps, ATC documents, telephone reports, and a 2010 Dodge Charger assigned to Painter.

 

There was only one problem with the timing.

Bonnie Jackson, 19th Judicial District Judge, did not sign the search warrant authorizing the raid and search of Painter’s office until Monday, Aug. 16.

That would appear to have made the previous Friday’s raid—pulled off three days before a judge had signed the search warrant—illegal and a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Emphasis added.)

The second violation, the destruction of evidence was not learned until three years later when Painter’s computer was finally returned and he found that some 4,000 files had been deleted. Much of that, of course, would have been routine state business related to ATC operations but there was other information contained in the files, Painter says, that could have helped exonerate him from the charges that were lodged against him by the Jindal administration. It is not only illegal to destroy evidence, but also to destroy state documents—even if they do not constitute evidence.

The third violation, this one by OIG, involved the apparent misrepresentation of testimony given in interviews by an attorney and his assistant who had experienced difficulty in obtaining a liquor license on the part of his client, a business with multiple out-of-state owners, a situation which made the licensure procedure more involved.

The attorney, Joseph Brantley, and Painter had exchanged emails whereupon Painter invited Brantley to come to the ATC offices so that the problem could be worked out. “Why don’t you come by here around 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 if that works for you tomorrow and we will go over ours versus yours,” Painter said in his email at 12:26 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008. Brantley responded three minutes later, asking, “Is it OK if I bring the lady that has been doing the primary work (on the file)?”

OIG investigator Shane Evans, who now works for the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office as its chief investigator, then laid the groundwork for the sexual harassment charges to be brought against Murphy when he wrote in a report of his interview with Brantley on Oct. 13, 2010:

“Mr. Brantley advised that Toby Edwards was a former assistant (paralegal) of his, that she is an attractive woman, and that after the meeting in late 2008, Mr. Painter granted the permit immediately.”

In his report of his interview with Edwards, also on Oct. 13, 2010, Evans wrote:

“During the meeting with Mr. Painter, he told Ms. Edwards that he had run her driver’s license and looked at her photograph. He said that was the only reason that he had granted them the meeting. (That is blatantly false: Copies of the Dec. 14, 2008, email exchange between Painter and Brantley obtained by LouisianaVoice clearly show that Painter invited Brantley to a meeting before he ever knew of Edwards’s existence.) She took his statement as the only reason he decided to meet with them is because he thought she was attractive. Ms. Edwards said his statement and demeanor made her very uncomfortable. She said she was very glad Mr. Brantley was present.

“She also said that she found it unusual that the permit had been repeatedly turned down but once she met with Mr. Painter face-to-face, her client immediately received the permit.”

Another report by OIG, the result of a second interview with Edwards on Nov. 5, 2012, described both Brantley and Edwards as “uncomfortable” during the meeting with Painter.

A second interview of Brantley on Nov. 7, 2012 produced yet a fourth OIG report that said, in part, that Edwards wore a “professional,” semi-low-cut shirt. “Mr. Brantley noticed that Mr. Painter noticed and glanced at Ms. Edwards’s chest during the meeting.

“…According to Mr. Brantley, Mr. Painter ‘clearly looked at’ Ms. Edwards’s chest,” the report says. Mr. Brantley even told Ms. Edwards that Mr. Painter was attracted to women, maybe more ‘than the average guy.’ Although Ms. Edwards would have attended the meeting anyway, Mr. Brantley took her to the meeting ‘for effect.’ He thinks that the meeting was more successful than it would have been otherwise if Ms. Edwards had not attended.

Pretty damning stuff, right?

Well, it would be except for affidavits signed and sworn to by Brantley and Edwards (now Pierce), which provide quite a contrasting version of events.

Brantley, after reviewing the OIG reports, flatly denied ever telling Evans or any other OIG investigator that Edwards took part in the meeting with Painter because Painter was fond of females.

“I brought her because she had more knowledge about the file than did I and she was more capable of answering any questions that may have arisen.”

Edwards pointedly noted that the meeting took place in a room “with all glass windows and doors.” She said she also learned at the meeting that Painter was a long-time acquaintance of her father, a former deputy sheriff in East Feliciana Parish and joked to her that he didn’t know her dad “had a daughter that was so pretty.” She said he then excused himself for a few minutes and later returned with a license for Brantley’s client.

Here are both of those affidavits:

 

So, with a little tweaking of the facts, a man’s career was ruined, his occupation stripped from him and his finances gutted—all because he insisted that a major campaign contributor submit the proper forms before obtaining a liquor license for his Sunday parties outside the New Orleans Superdome.

This is Louisiana at its worst, folks, and it’s a clear example of how the political establishment can crush you if you don’t have the right contacts and sufficient financial resources to match those of the state’s taxpayers.

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Troy Hebert just won’t go away.

But in this case, he’s probably like to.

The former commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) is scheduled in U.S. District Court Monday as a federal racial discrimination LAWSUIT  against him and ATC cranks up.

The lawsuit, to be tried before U.S. District Court Judge John W. DeGravelles, was filed by former ATC agent Charles M. Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The three claim that Hebert made working conditions so bad that employees had to take medical leave or were forced to resign. Each of the three filed separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received “right to sue” notices.

LouisianaVoice first reported the filing of the lawsuit three years ago, in July 2014. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/14/forcing-grown-men-to-write-lines-overnight-transfers-other-bizarre-actions-by-troy-hebert-culminate-in-federal-lawsuit

The lawsuit says five African-American supervisors worked in the ATC Enforcement Division when Hebert, a former state senator from Jeanerette, was appointed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal in November 2010. “By means of the manipulative actions by Troy Hebert…there are now no African-American supervisors within the ATC Enforcement Division,” the petition says.

Prior to Hebert’s appointment, the three “had unblemished records with no prior disciplinary actions,” the suit says. “Each…had been promoted to supervisory positions at ATC before Troy Hebert’s arrival.”

The suit says Hebert “deliberately acted in disregard of the plaintiffs’ clearly established rights to be free from racial discrimination, race-based harassment and retaliation.

Gilmore worked for 10 years as a corrections sergeant and Louisiana State Police trooper before joining ATC in 1998 where he worked his way up to Special Agent in Charge until he was “constructively discharged” by Hebert on Sept. 27, 2013, the lawsuit says.

“Constructive discharge” is when working conditions become so intolerable that an employee cannot stay in the position or accepts forced resignation.

McDowell was hired by ATC in 2005 and in his seven years was promoted three times. Hingle was hired in 1991. During his 21 years of employment, he was also promoted three times.

The lawsuit also alleges that on Aug. 22, 2012, two days after taking leave, Gilmore and McDowell were told by fellow agent Brette Tingle that Hebert intended to break up the “black trio” a reference to Gilmore, McDowell and Supervising Agent Bennie Walters. Walters was subsequently fired on Sept. 7.

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There are times when, after you break a major story about official wrongdoing and after the requisite denials by those involved, everything gets quiet and the story seems to have hit a dead end. Or at least been placed in a state of suspended animation.

But generally, if you are willing to be patient and wait long enough, the story gets new life with the surfacing of new information.

So it was a year ago when LouisianaVoice and New Orleans Fox8 News investigative reporter Lee Zurik simultaneously broke a STORY that Troy Hebert, former director of the Office of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (and furtive candidate for the U.S. Senate last fall—he got one-half of one percent of the vote), was under investigation by the FBI for:

  • Extorting sex from a New Orleans woman, Sarah Palmer, in exchange for approval of a liquor license for the French Quarter restaurant she managed, and
  • Illegally steered applicants for liquor licenses to attorney Chris Young for representation through Young’s sister, Judy Pontin, executive management officer for the New Orleans ATC office.

Now, thanks to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Hebert by a former ATC agent, those same issues have surfaced again.

Documents concerning still another issue, the suppressing of an investigation into a Baton Rouge bar following a 2012 accident involving a patron of the bar who had a blood alcohol content of .307 when he struck and killed two cyclists, killing one and injuring the other.

LouisianaVoice wrote in a February 2016 POST that Hebert wrongfully took control of the investigation and personally exonerated the Bulldog Bar from any wrongdoing. Chris Young was legal counsel for the Bulldog.

The only problem for fired ATC agent Brett Tingle, who filed the lawsuit against Hebert, it’s possible that none of Hebert’s repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment in a deposition will be allowed into testimony.

Federal Judge John DeGravelles of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, currently has under advisement Hebert’s motion for protective order filed by attorney Renee Culotta which would, if granted, prohibit Tingle’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III, from posing any questions at trial about Hebert’s relationship with Palmer and/or Young.

In his deposition taken in December 2016 in preparation for trial in the Tingle matter, Hebert repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when Palmer’s name was brought up by Smith, as illustrated by the following exchanges:

  • Smith: “Do you recognize this (redacted) document?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Do you know a lady by the name of Sara (sic) Palmer?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Have you engaged in any infidelity during your marriage to Dawn Vick?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “That’s not a Fifth Amendment matter.”
  • Smith” I’m going to show you Exhibit No. 9 (redacted). What is this document, sir?
  • Hebert: I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “So with respect to Exhibit No. 9, you’re exercising your Fifth Amendment right”
  • Hebert: “I answered the question.”
  • Smith: “I’ll show you (exhibit) No. 10 (redacted). Do you recognize the Exhibit No. 10?”
  • Hebert: “I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”

While the exhibits were redacted in Hebert’s Memorandum of Support for obvious reasons, the motion did note that exhibits eight and nine were “documents concerning” Louisiana Oyster House, dba Star Steak and Lobster (the restaurant managed by Palmer), notably a notice of violation and renewal applications. Exhibit 10, Culotta said, “concerned Chris Young documents previously attached to Hebert’s deposition as Exhibit 10-12.”

Interestingly, in his Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Protective Order, Hebert said that while he has not been indicted and there is “no active criminal case” against him… “It is clear Hebert has been under investigation by the FBI, and should he provide answers to these questions, he could face indictment and criminal prosecution.” (Emphasis added.)

And this memorandum, we should point out, was written by Hebert’s attorney, Renee Culotta, who is being paid thousands of dollars while under contract to the Attorney General’s office as a contract attorney—just as she was in a previous lawsuit against ATC, that of Lisa Pike, a former ATC employee who also sued Hebert. The terms of that settlement have been held confidential by the court.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request for Culotta’s billing for legal representation in the Pike matter. Her billing in the defense of the Tingle lawsuit would not be made available because the case is ongoing.

Culotta said in the memorandum that allegations by Palmer against Hebert “occurred in January 2016, well after Tingle’s work for and termination from the ATC. Tingle did not participate in any issue concerning Sarah Palmer and/or Steak and Lobster, and no facts about Palmer or Steak and Lobster are contained in (Tingle’s) complaint.

“Likewise, the issues concerning Chris Young (i.e., whether Hebert gave preferential treatment to Young and/or referred clients to Young as part of an illegal scheme) are also not a part of this lawsuit and are not relevant to and have no bearing on whether Hebert allegedly retaliated against Tingle because of Tingle’s participation in the race discrimination charges and lawsuits filed by three African-American employees.

Tingle’s counsel’s questions and discovery concerning Chris Young and/or Sarah Parker were only meant to embarrass and harass Hebert,” Culotta said in her memorandum.

“Hebert cannot fully defend himself in the civil case (i.e., by explaining his position concerning Young, Palmer and (t)he Star Steak and Lobster license renewal) while the threat of criminal prosecution is looming.

“Plaintiff cannot have it both ways: if he intends to pursue this evidence, he then must agree to a stay in order that Hebert can defend himself without threat of criminal prosecution.

“Defendant Troy Hebert respectfully requests (that) this court issue a protective order forbidding plaintiff’s counsel from discovering, asking any questions about or referencing Chris Young, Sarah Palmer and/or the Star Steak and Lobster restaurant going forward in this litigation. To the extent plaintiff claims these issues are relevant, then Hebert respectfully asks the court to stay the proceedings until the statute of limitations has run on any criminal charges that could be brought in connection with these matters.” (Emphasis added.)

Now I don’t pretend to be a legal scholar. Journalism schools (or at least the one I attended) sadly do not require any courses in law even though any career journalist is going to be covering courtroom procedure at some point during his career.

That said, it appears to me that someone is one helluva lot more concerned with potential criminal exposure than any civil liability.

But then, that’s understandable. If a public official is convicted of criminal wrongdoing, he is the one who is penalized. If, on the other hand, a civil verdict is returned against that same individual, it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays whatever judgment is assessed.

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No sooner had The Donald pulled off the biggest political upset since dewey-defeats-trumanthan the speculation on who would hold which cabinet position had begun. And it got downright scary.

There was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani being touted as Attorney General.

Yep. That’s all we need: A doddering old has-been who has all he can handle to remember his own name standing in as the premier legal authority in the land. He’s probably the only one who could make John Mitchell look good.

And Newt-for-God’s-sake-Gingrich as Secretary of State?

And the Republicans thought Hillary was bad in that role?

Next thing you know, Trump will be tossing out Charles Koch’s name as Secretary of the Interior.

And how about Chris Christie as Secretary of Defense?

Or Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as Secretary of the Treasury? I mean, look what he’s done for that state’s finances.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, in a story quickly picked up by state media, a familiar name (to Louisianans, that is) is being pitched as a potential choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Bobby Jindal.

Are you kidding me?

Apparently not. http://www.wdsu.com/article/report-former-gov-bobby-jindal-being-considered-for-cabinet-role-in-trump-administration/8263712

For some reason the locals believe that because he worked for former Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of Health and Hospitals and for former President George W. Bush as a special adviser to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he somehow has a shot at a similar role in the Trump administration.

I would refer those reporters to chapters 30 through 37 of my book Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Those chapters include the sordid details of how Jindal single-handedly dismantled the state’s model public teaching hospital system to benefit a few greedy political hangers-on—even to the point of signing off on a contract containing 50 blank pages. A rhetorical question: would anyone reading this ever sign his or her name to any document containing even one blank page?

As an added bonus, I would refer you to Chapter 17 of the book which details how Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols landed a cushy lobbying position with Ochsner Health System after helping negotiate a deal whereby Ochsner would partner with Terrebonne General Medical Center to take over operation of the state’s Leonard Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

At least the WSJ thought to mention failed GOP presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson as also being under consideration for the Health and Human Services post.

That would, after all, make a little more sense. After all, Carson did pipe up from time to time on behalf of Trump’s candidacy. We heard nary a peep from the Louisiana wannabe wunderkind Piyush Jindal after he removed himself from the Republican presidential sweepstakes last November…and no one noticed (of course they didn’t notice while he was running, either). All he did was join the board of some Texas corporation and quickly fade from memory—helping the Republican Party but crushing my book sales in the process.

Hey, Donald, here’s a heads-up. After Tuesday’s race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, there are two former U.S. Representatives who ran unsuccessfully for the upper chamber who are now unemployed.

And they both just happen to be doctors.

But how can you trump (pun intended) a Rhodes Scholar?

If James Comey wasn’t doing such a splendid job, you might even consider Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to head up the FBI. Think how regal he’d look sitting behind old J. Edgar’s desk.

But while you’re at it, you may be needing a new Secretary of Immigration and Border Protection. We understand David Duke just pulled an astonishing 3 percent of the vote in that same U.S. Senate race and may be looking for something to do. And we already know the rapport he has with minorities. Why, he’d fit right in.

And while you’re at it, you may be on the lookout for someone to replace Jeh Johnson as Secretary of Homeland Security.

There’s this fellow who previously did such a stellar job running the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control—into the ground. Troy Hebert did even worse than Duke, racking up a whopping .5 percent of the vote in the 24-person Senate race. That’s one-half of one damn percentage point. Imagine what he could do for Homeland Security.

He may even still have his badge from his ATC days.

Yep, Donald, if you’re looking for washed up political has-beens to lead your administration—and it appears that you are—we have a boatload of ‘em down here in Louisiana.

Take your pick.

Please.

(Apologies to Henny Youngman.)

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