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You have to wonder what the Louisiana Ethics Board is trying to conceal.

Back in March, the neutered ethics board sued the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in an effort to prevent state auditors from peeking at information in its case files that the auditors say is necessary to conduct a proper performance review of the board.

Well, there may be a plausible explanation but on the surface of it all, the ethics board’s action screams of some kind of cover-up. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but then when you examine some of the board’s actions, that too, is understandable.

You may remember one of the first actions taken by Bobby Jindal soon after taking office back in 2008 was to gut the board in what he deemed at the time reform that produced the “gold standard” of ethics.

What it did, instead, was make then-pending ethics investigations of a couple of legislators go away. One of those legislators is now a college president. Go figure.

When Jindal announced his “reforms,” there were 11 members of the ethics board. Soon after that, there were two. Nine of the 11 members, including the board chairman, vice-chairman and board administrator promptly RESIGNED in protest—or disgust, take your pick.

In its lawsuit, filed in state court in Baton Rouge, the board contends that information contained in the files is confidential and privileged. State Auditor Daryl Purpera countered that his office has not only the right but the obligation to see the information—and to keep it confidential.

It’s most likely that auditors are not interested in any particular case, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider some of the board’s fancy footwork in dodging any responsibility in holding public officials’ feet to the proverbial fire.

Take State Police, for example. Back in April 2018, the board CLEARED —in secret, at that—four State Troopers accused of taking a taxpayer-funded vacation in a state vehicle that took them to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas en route to a convention in San Diego.

The troopers, the board determined, did not take the detour to the tourist spots on their own volition, but upon the instructions of higher-ups in the department. There was only one “higher-up” who could give those instructions and that was then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who ultimately resigned under pressure in the wake of that trip.

But then, 16 months later, in August 2019, the board then managed to twist logic beyond recognition when it also CLEARED Edmonson of wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Gray Sexton. Sexton formerly served as (ahem) head of the State Ethics Commission but apparently had no problem representing clients before the board.

Sexton said he had received a letter from the board that cleared Edmonson but he refused to make a copy of the letter available, claiming that it was “confidential.”

That seems to be the way the Ethics Board operates these days: confidentially, in secret, behind closed doors, out of sight from, and with no accountability to the public.

Auditors are seeking full access to board records from 2013-2018, specifically inclusive of investigative case files, files for cases with waivers/suspensions, and ethics board executive meeting minutes.

The board provided some of the records but has withheld the investigative case files and executive board meeting minutes, justifying the refusal by claiming state law “provides that documents obtained or prepared in connection with an investigation are not only confidential but also privileged.”

The board’s refusal and lawsuit appear to be part of a trend of state boards, commissions and agencies trying to prevent auditors from delving into their operations.

In recent years, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Louisiana Pharmacy Board, and the Department of Economic Development have taken legal action to protect their records from the prying eyes of auditors. Purpera’s office won against the Medical Examiners and Pharmacy boards but lost a court decision against LED.

Purpera said the effort to obtain records for auditing purpoises is an ongoing battle. “We’ve been fighting for records for the last 25 years,” he said.

 

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For an agency with an annual budget of about $1 million, the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board has taken little initiative in protecting patients from therapists with histories of substance abuse, sexual abuse, billing issues and even practicing without a license.

That is the conclusion of an audit of the agency released this week by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office. (Read the full audit report HERE.)

The audit report also found that of 4,857 physical therapists licensed in Louisiana since 2010, fully 78.1 percent (3,791) had never undergone background checks as required by state law.

That’s because even though state law granted LPTB the authority to conduct background checks on new applicants in January 2010, the checks were not undertaken until January 2016—six years after the law went into effect.

During the fiscal years 2015 through 2019, the LPTB received 169 complaints containing 200 allegations that took an average of 120 days to resolve. LPTB, the audit noted, has never established timeframes for how long it should take to investigate complaints and to issue disciplinary actions. Investigation times ranged from one day to more than a year, the report said.

State law granted LPTB authority to conduct background checks on applicants upon initial licensures in January 2010 but did not begin actually conducting the checks until January 2016. “As a result, as of October 2019, 3,791 (78.1 percent) of 4,857 current licensees who were licensed prior to January 2016 did not receive background checks,” the audit report said.

Moreover, LPTB “is not required to inquire of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) prior to issuing or renewing licenses, so it may be making decisions without important disciplinary information on potential applicants from other states,” it said.

LPTB failed to report all adverse actions to the NPDB in fiscal years 2015 through 2019 as required by federal regulations, the audit said. “We found that LPTB did not report 29.7 percent (27 of 91 actions issued involving 46 licensees to the NPDB within 30 days,” auditors said.

“LPTB took an average of 222 days to report these 27 actions…ranging from 42 days to more than two years. The nature of these cases included sexual misconduct, substance abuse, criminal convictions, and fraud.

Auditors suggested possible a legislative remedy to at least one shortcoming. Because current procedures allow for background checks on only new applicants, the report said, “The legislature may wish to consider amending (state law) to require LPTB to conduct background checks on all applicants, including renewing applicants and reinstatements.”

 

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Did physical therapist Philippe Veeters have a guardian angel watching over him, protecting him from an aggressive investigation by Baton Rouge authorities after he was accused of inappropriate touching of female patients and inappropriate comments about their bodies?

Veeters, you may recall from LouisianaVoice’s story last month, was first arrested last February on the basis of complaints from several female patients but the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s office didn’t get around to submitted a bill of information against him until Nov. 1.

See that story HERE.

Veeters, it turns out, besides operating his own facility, Dutch Physical Therapy, also has an affiliation with The Spine Diagnostic Promotional, LLC.

Louisiana Secretary of State corporate records indicate that The Spine Diagnostic Promotional has two officers—Veeters and Dr. J. Michael Burdine.

The association with Burdine is significant in that until recently, Burdine was President of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

To be clear, the State Board of Medical Examiners has no direct authority over physical therapists who are licensed and regulated by the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board.

But both the State Board of Medical Examiners and the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board operate under the umbrella of the Louisiana Department of Health. That, and the business relationship between Veeters and Burdine creates at least a perception by one woman who has complained about Veeters of too much coziness between the two boards.

The two boards even shared a common legal counsel until attorney George Papale was TERMINATED by the physical therapy board following complaints about the board’s handling of….sexual misconduct cases involving physical therapists.

 

Business: THE SPINE DIAGNOSTIC PROMOTIONAL, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 35730933K
Registration Date: 6/28/2004

 

Domicile Address
  5408 FLANDERS DR.
  BATON ROUGE, LA 70808

 

Status: Active
File Date: 6/28/2004
Last Report Filed: 7/5/2018
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Agent: J. MICHAEL BURDINE
Address 1: 5408 FLANDERS DR.
City, State, Zip: BATON ROUGE, LA 70808
Appointment Date: 6/28/2004

 

Officer: J. MICHAEL BURDINE, M.D.
Title: Member
Address 1: 5408 FLANDERS DR.
City, State, Zip: BATON ROUGE, LA 70808

 

Officer: PHILIPPE VEETERS
Title: Member
Address 1: 10343 SIEGEN LN.
City, State, Zip: BATON ROUGE, LA 70810

 

Here is the biographical information on Dr. Burdine prior to his leaving the Board of Medical Examiners:

Board Members

J Michael Burdine, MD – President

Dr. Burdine grew up in Lafayette, LA attending high school at Acadiana High and received his bachelor of science at LSU in Baton Rouge.  He attended medical school at LSU New Orleans graduating in 1983.  He completed his internship at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and after, worked emergency medicine for four years in the Acadiana area.  He attended the University of Arkansas in Little Rock studying Anesthesiology and moved to the University of Cincinnati to complete his fellowship in Pain Management.  He worked in Oklahoma City providing outpatient regional anesthesia and pain management for eleven years before returning to Baton Rouge in 2002 to practice pain management exclusively.

Since returning to Baton Rouge Dr. Burdine has been an active member in the Louisiana State Medical Society, the President of the Capitol Area Medical Society, and the President of the Louisiana Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.  He was an Executive Board Member of the Arthritis Association of Louisiana and was its volunteer of the year in 2006.  He serves on the Louisiana Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee; is an Executive Board Member of the Louisiana Society of Anesthesiologists; and the LSIPP Delegate to the Calcasieu Prescription Drug Task Force.

In 2008 he was voted Medtronic’s Patient Access Advocacy Hero and has twice been a CRC of America Top 100 Physicians in Pain Management.

Dr. Burdine is Board Certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and holds added Certification in Pain Management in 1996 and 2006 by the ABMS.  He is a member of multiple National and State wide physician organizations.  He is currently in full time private practice at the Spine Diagnostic and Pain Treatment Center of which he is the founder in Baton Rouge, LA.

 

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A Baton Rouge physical therapist has been formally charged with inappropriate touching of female patients and inappropriate comments about their bodies, but the bill of information from the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office might never have been submitted had it not been for the dogged pursuit of one woman who refused to allow her complaints to be ignored despite the best efforts of the DA’s office and East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s investigators to do just that.

Physical therapist Philippe Veeters, doing business as Dutch Physical Therapy, was first arrested last February on the basis of complaints by several of his female patients, but East Baton Rouge Parish DA Hillar Moore didn’t get around to submitting a bill of information against Veeters until Nov. 1.

The woman, who requested that her identity not be revealed, says she was assaulted by Veeters on June 7, 2018, said, “After dealing with the sheriff’s office for months, I contacted the FBI with all my documentation showing how the police kept lying to me and changing their stories. they did try to investigate them. However, Mr. Hillar Moore apparently invited himself to that meeting and shut that meeting down. Moore told the FBI that it is just too hard to go against a doctor,” she said. “This was disturbing and sickening, knowing Mr. Veeters had already admitted to the detectives within one week what he did to me without consent—trying to pretend it was a normal Medical procedure.

“I have since learned another victim went to the sheriff’s office in 2012…but no one ever took her seriously or even investigated her assault,” the woman said. “I had to fight so hard against the people who should be protecting us. They had his admission on tape, they had others who reported it to them and the board yet they kept lying to me. Why?”

She said sheriff’s office investigators initially were supportive and told her she was doing the right thing in filing charges against Veeters. But then she said authorities suddenly began “to tell me different stories and start(ed) deflecting when we question(ed) them on things” and opened and closed her case three times. “I now know why victims do not come forward. It takes so much power and strength to report something like this and you aren’t allowed to heal and push the memory away as quick (sic) as you would like.”

She said she and her husband met with sheriff’s office investigators but got no answers.

“I also have emails dating back to July 2018 between Hillar Moore and myself—where I’d share things with him about the sheriff’s office,” the woman said, “and from July 2018 until January 2019 he would tell me he’d get with them and they’d get back to me. He never got back to me!! It was almost comical. I went from patient to angry that someone didn’t want to protect the women in our community. He completely stopped responding to me once I told him I learned who Floyd falcon was. Never heard from him again!

“When I finally met with the assistant DA in May 2019, she claimed they were protecting me. I have no idea what they were protecting me from nor do I believe her. Considering they wanted all my medical records from the board and were upset my mental health records were not obtained, I doubt they were protecting me from anything.”

She also was critical of George Papale, legal counsel for the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board, which had received complaints of sexual abuse by Veeters from at least half-a-dozen women. The board finally got around to continuing a prior nine-month suspension handed down on Oct. 5, 2018, suspending Veeters indefinitely on September 13 of this year, seven months after his arrest.

The consent decree signed by Veeters and his attorney, Floyd Falcon, noted that “This is not the first disciplinary action” taken against Veeters “for related professional misconduct and sexual misconduct of a physical therapy patient.”

The board did not recommend disciplinary action on a similar complaint in 2012 and in January 2014, placed Veeters “on notice,” but took no formal disciplinary action against him.

The board’s reluctance did not deter Papale from firing off a 24-page letter of complaint to State Sen. John Alario in which he asked for an investigation “on behalf of the citizens of Louisiana” of actions taken by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee during and following a May 15, 2019 hearing relative to the board, which Papale termed “unlawful and unprofessional.”

Papale, who no longer represents the board, complained that committee chair Karen Carter Peterson and Sen. Jean-Paul rebuked the board “with callous disregard for the truth” by repeatedly mischaracterizing the adjudication of a complaint by saying “a person who is under nine counts of sexual assault charges is under probation with the board” and “this guy got a nine-month slap on the wrist.”

His letter also accused the committee of threatening and attacking board members, its employees and contractors and of saying the board was failing the citizens of Louisiana “without investigation into the validity of the complaints, nor a basic understanding of administrative laws, processes, or procedure.”

To read the full text of that 24-page letter, go HERE.

Consent agreement of OCTOBER 5, 2018

Latest CONSENT AGREEMENT

 

 

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Mike Edmonson, a veteran of 35 years with Louisiana State Police (LSP) and nine years as the state’s top cop, is reported to have been named Program Administrator for Police Patrol by the New Orleans French Quarter Management District (FQMD).

LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report on Tuesday that Edmonson, who retired at $128,559 per year after being forced out in March 2017, had been named to the post, advertised by the FQMD earlier this year.

An LSP spokesman said he had heard similar reports but could not confirm them.

Prior to making that request, LouisianaVoice attempted to obtain verbal confirmation from the New Orleans municipal offices but it took six calls to various offices before anyone even answered the phone.

Efforts to confirm the appointment and the salary of the position with the New Orleans mayor’s office by email met with referrals of all public records requests to an outfit called NextRequest.

NextRequest, headquartered in San Francisco, serves as a clearing house for public records requests for governmental agencies, schools, special districts, etc.

Apparently governmental agencies’ rush to privatize services now extends to responding to and complying with public records requests.

Edmonson retired from LSP in March 2017 following a San Diego conference attended by several LSP officials, including four troopers who made the trip in a state vehicle and who took a side trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in 2016.

The investigation of that trip resulted in two of the most convoluted, confusing and controversial—and conflicting—findings by the State Board of Ethics. In April 2018, the ethics board cleared—in secret—the four troopers of any wrongdoing, concluding that they were simply following orders from higher-ups and had taken the vehicle and the side trip with the approval of Edmonson.

Sixteen months later, in August of this year, that same board CLEARED EDMONSON of any wrongdoing for that same trip. Edmonson, it should be noted, was represented before the board by Baton Rouge attorney Gray Sexton who once headed the ethics board.

Sexton said at the time that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well. It’s unclear whether or not the FBI has actually dropped its investigation of Edmonson, who was harshly criticized for his management practices in an audit by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

If reports of Edmonson’s hiring are true, he would find himself working in a familiar—and friendly—atmosphere, given his ties to Robert Watters, owner of RICK’S CABARET.

Edmonson was instrumental in negotiating a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) whereby LSP would provide patrol duties in the French Quarter to augment New Orleans police.

In 2015, French Quarter residents approved a special quarter-cent sales tax increase in the district to pay for a PERMANENT LSP PRESENCE. Thirty-two troopers from Troop N were assigned permanently to the Quarter.

When proceeds from the sales tax proved insufficient, the Louisiana Legislature appropriated an additional $2.4 million to cover the shortfall.

In December 2018, a STATE AUDIT said LSP had not provided proof that $2.4 million in state funds set aside for policing the Quarter was actually spent there, a finding with which LSP disagreed.

If Edmonson has indeed been appointed program manager for the district, he will undoubtedly have interactions with his old agency that he left under a cloud two-and-one-half years ago.

 

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