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Do you happen to remember the LouisianaVoice STORY of April 2014 in which Jeff Mercer, owner of a defunct Mangham construction company, claimed in a lawsuit that the state owed him more than $11 million that was withheld after he resisted shakedown efforts from a Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) inspector who demanded that Mercer “put some green” in his hand and that he could “make things difficult for Mercer?”

Or do you happen to remember the follow up LouisianaVoice STORY of December 2015 in which the inspector, Willis Jenkins, admitted during the trial that he did indeed say he “wanted green,” but that he was only joking. Or that because money Mercer said he was entitled to was withheld, he eventually had to shutter his construction company?

Apparently Mercer possessed sufficient proof that a 12-person jury, after a grueling, 30-day trial, unanimously awarded him $20 million. Not only did the jury hold DOTD liable for damages, but it also held four individual DOTD employees—Willis Jenkins, Michael Murphy, Barry Lacy, and John Eason—personally liable.

Employed by the jury in arriving at its verdict was such benign nomenclature as “collusion,” “bribery,” “extortion,” “conspiracy,” and “corruption.”

But that wasn’t good enough for the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, a judge with a spotty legal record of his own—and a judge with ties sufficiently close to DOTD that he probably should never have touched this case in the first place—not even with the proverbial 10-foot pole.

Mercer’s award was not just reduced, but obliterated, when it was overturned in its entirety, showing again how subtle nuances of the legal system allow for gross injustice to be perpetrated against those lacking the right connections or campaign cash.

There was a similar case in Calcasieu Parish involving contractor Billy Broussard, a gravity drainage district, and a contract to clean hurricane debris out of a local bayou. Broussard was instructed to clean out pre-storm debris, to be paid by FEMA. FEMA refused to pay for the unauthorized cleanup, and the gravity drainage district has refused to honor its obligations, costing Broussard millions of dollars.

And the legal system has been irresponsible in protecting the rights of first Broussard and now Mercer, leaving one to wonder with some justification: “What happens when I need the protection of the courts?”

It’s interesting that in our society, we tend to put a lot of faith in robes. But a black robe and a gavel do not endow a person with wisdom, or even knowledge. They are merely symbolic. Yet, when we walk into a courtroom, we are expected—required—to be reverent, attentive, and respectful and to never, under any circumstances, question the authority of the man or woman on the raised bench clad in that black robe and holding that gavel.

Of course there must be decorum in an environment of dispute resolution. Otherwise, events quickly descend into chaos. But that certainly does not mean that the presiding officer of the court is infallible. Far from it.

And that seems to be the one fact that some judges tend to forget—all too often.

Judge Henry N. Brown, as Chief Judge of the Second Circuit, has the responsibility of assigning cases. In Mercer’s case, he somewhat incredibly chose to assign it to himself—and wrote the decision.

The problem with that? Oh, not much…except that Brown’s father was a civil engineer for DOTD for 44 years, thus creating what could be perceived as an instant conflict of interest. Nor, apparently, did he ever once see the need to inform Mercer or his attorney—or anyone else, for that matter—of this inconvenient little fact.

Mercer’s attorney, David Doughty of Rayville, is understandably upset. “Mercer has a constitutional right to a fair trial before an impartial judge,” he says in his MEMORANDUM in Support of Application for Rehearing and his Motion to Recuse and Vacate the Panel’s Opinion.

“Only after the June 7 decision (by the Second Circuit) did plaintiff (Mercer)/appellee learn that Chief Judge Henry Brown, Jr. failed to disclose the critical fact that his father, Henry N. Brown, Sr., had been a civil engineer for the State of Louisiana in the Shreveport area for 44 years,” the memorandum says.

Doughty cited a case in which a West Virginia judge refused to recuse himself and the state Supreme Court subsequently found “that the risk of perceived bias was so great that due process requires recusal.”

“Judge Brown’s failure to recuse himself from the case or even disclose this huge potential bias undermines the very fabric of our people’s faith in the judicial integrity of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal,” the memorandum says. “This failure erodes public confidence in the integrity or capacity of this judiciary.”

Doughty wrote that the Second Circuit’s decision should be vacated “especially in the wake of a unanimous 12-person jury verdict finding that the plaintiff had proven governmental corruption and conspiracy.”

Brown won a close race for reelection as district attorney in 1984 over then State Rep. Bruce Bolin of Minden. In that campaign, Bolin accused Brown of having dropped charges against 230 suspects. Some of those charges, Bolin said, included rape, narcotics violations and DWI. Bolin, in what must be considered campaign rhetoric, also said Brown had not adequately prosecuted murder cases.

But Brown was known for his dogged prosecution of murder cases as a district attorney. Sending five defendants to the electric chair, he was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes and the Fox Channel’s The Reporters. He was called “The Deadliest Prosecutor” by one publication.

At least one of Brown’s high-profile prosecutions, however, was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

In 1986, he was the district attorney in the prosecution of James M. Monds of Keithville in Caddo Parish. Monds, at the time a surgical technician at Barksdale AFB, was convicted of the murder of a woman who was raped, assaulted, and mutilate in a high school parking lot. Despite his denial that he had ever met the victim and that he had no knowledge of her death, he was convicted. In 1994, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that insufficient evidence, most of it of a circumstantial nature, existed to continue to incarcerate Monds. He was subsequently released after serving nearly nine years in prison.

Doughty said it is a “matter of common sense that someone whose family is so deeply connected to the DOTD should not hear the case out of fundamental fairness” and that the decision to do so constituted violations of CANONS 2 and 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

So, bottom line: There is often little correlation between law and justice.

And people like Jeff Mercer and Billy Broussard end up nailed to the wall by a perverted legal system that is grotesquely unfair, to say the least.

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It may not be as furtive as Sen. Neil Riser’s 2014 amendment to sneak a hefty retirement raise for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson through the legislature, but something doesn’t seem quite right about a request for proposals (RFP) due to be issued by the Division of Administration by the end of the month (Thursday).

And this time the legislature has nothing to do with it; curiously, the project was initiated by Bobby Jindal and continues to be pushed by John Bel Edwards despite two separate studies that have said it is a bad deal for the state.

A request for information (RFI) for a “public-private partnership related to the State of Louisiana’s Central Chilled Water Facilities” was issued by the Division of Administration on March 17, 2015. The Jindal administration as part of its privatization push, was exploring the feasibility of entering into an agreement whereby a private entity would take over operation of the facilities which provide chilled water to air-condition state buildings in the Capitol Complex and elsewhere.

The state currently operates two such facilities, one in South Baton Rouge and the other in North Baton Rouge.

Only two companies, Bostonia Group of Boston and Bernhard Energy of Baton Rouge, submitted proposals in May 2015 but on June 23, 2015, Glenn Frazier, director of the Office of State Buildings, issued a letter which said in part, “After thorough review of the two proposals by an evaluation committee, Bostonia Group’s proposal was rejected and Bernhard Energy was asked to present an oral presentation. After hearing Bernhard Energy’s oral presentation and reviewing there (sic) subsequent follow up information, the committee has determined that due to the exceptionally high cost, it is clearly not in the state’s best interest to enter into a public-private partnership with Bernhard for the proposed services.” OSB Review Team Report

Apparently not satisfied with that recommendation, the Jindal administration then entered into a $25,000 contract with Assaf, Simoneaux, Tauzin & Associates (AST) Engineering Consultants of Baton Rouge on October 20, 2015, for the “Evaluation and Feasibility Study” of Bernhard’s proposal.

The state currently owns all the equipment and piping for both plants. Bernhard proposed extending the piping to other non-state entities and to market the chilled water with 38 percent of the sales being credited to the state.

AST, in a June 29, 2016, letter to Bill Wilson of the Office of State Buildings (OSB), said the proposed 38 percent credit to the state “appears to be low given the fact that the state currently owns all the equipment and is producing and distributing the chilled water.”

Despite acknowledging that Bernhard had “tweaked” its initial offer to come up with a more attractive proposal, AST said the “adoption of this agreement would not be advantageous for the State of Louisiana in its current form.”

AST called the revised formula submitted by Bernhard “cumbersome,” adding that “Based on our assessment and analysis, we recommend the current response to the RFI not be accepted by the State of Louisiana as a final proposal/contract.” AST Review Team Report

Bernhard submitted four options: one calling for a 20-year contract, two for 30-year durations and the fourth for 99 years. Under terms of its proposal, Bernhard would pay the state cash up front, depending upon which option was agreed upon. Under Option One, the state would receive $9.1 million for the 20-year agreement. The state would receive $12 million under Option Two and $12 million under Option Three, each for a 30-year contract. For the 99-year agreement, the state would receive $14.5 million up front.

Bernhard would invest some $13 million in expanding the piping system in order to serve private entities in downtown Baton Rouge. The state, in turn, would purchase its chilled water from Bernhard Energy. Additionally, the state would continue to own all piping and equipment but would “retain the obligation to operate, maintain, repair, renew, and replace the Central Chilled Water Facilities (CCWF) including any improvements or new equipment installed by Bernhard.”

In an email exchange with the state, Bernhard was told, “The concept of having a State entity, i.e., Office of State Buildings contract with Bernhard Energy and then have the state pay for the services back to Bernhard Energy does not appear to be logical from the State’s perspective. This would additionally place a state entity (Office of State Buildings) serving both a private contractor at the same time as providing services to its State tenants. Doing so could would likely result in not providing the expected service levels to the agencies we serve and it (could) direct (sic) conflict with achieving the agency mission.” StateofLACCWF.BernhardResponses.12.19.15[1852].docx.0001

Bernhard’s response was immediate and significant in that the wording of the company’s response hinted that the entire RFP process may have been rigged to benefit Bernhard:

“Bernhard is confused by the response of the State on this item. During a meeting with Bernhard representatives on September 29, 2015, the State indicated that it could operate the facilities cheaper than Bernhard. To decrease the rates under the Thermal Services Agreement, Bernhard agreed to offer a proposal whereby it subcontracted the operation and maintenance of the facilities back to the State. If the State does not wish to have the operation and maintenance of the facilities subcontracted back to it, Bernhard can retain the operation and maintenance and the costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the facilities would be recovered through the rate structure previously proposed.

“In contrast, if the State does not wish to have Bernhard operate and maintain the facilities, which was, in large part the basis of the RFP, and it is unknown why the State would have issued the RFP, and allowed Bernhard and other respondents to expend substantial sums in pursuit of this project if the State had no intention of having a third party operate and maintain the facilities.”

But if you thought the project was dead, think again.

LouisianaVoice has obtained an email from Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne dated April 19 of this year in which it was made evident that the governor’s office wants the public-private partnership to become reality.

Here is that email:

I have assured the Gov that we will have the RFP on the street no later than May 31. My understanding, which I communicated to him, is that we anticipate that the statewide proposal (including Capitol Park and the DOA controlled properties across the state) will probably be the first one out of the chute based on the delays created by defects in the Southern proposal which has been sent back to the school. I want to make sure that we meet or beat the May 31 deadline. I know that everyone’s focus has been on the SFO (solicitation for offers) for the PM (prescription marijuana) (properly so) but this now needs to be a top priority. Please make sure your folks understand. Thanks. Jay (emphasis ours).

Just in case you don’t believe us: DARDENNE MEMO

Jim Bernhard, who heads up Bernhard Energy, previously served as Chairman of the State Democratic Party and was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2007. He built and headed the Shaw Group before it was sold to Chicago Brick & Iron (CB&I) a few years ago for $3 billion.

He and his assortment of companies have been major players in the state’s political field, contributing more than $85,000 to Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2015 and 2016 and $56,000 to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003. By contrast, campaign finance records show that he and his companies gave only $3,000 to Jindal in 2003 ($1,000) and 2007 ($2,000).

But his generosity to Blanco apparently paid huge dividends in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square). That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

Thus, the Shaw Group realized a net profit of $100 a square, A-1 made $45 dollars per square, and Westcon netted $28 dollars a square – all without ever placing the first sheet of tarpaulin. Between them, the three companies reaped profits of $173 per square after paying a paltry $2 per square. The real irony in the entire scenario was that the first three contractors – Shaw, A-1, and Westcon – didn’t even own the equipment necessary to perform tarping or debris hauling. By the time public outrage, spurred by media revelations of the fiasco, forced public bidding on tarping, forcing tarping prices down from the $3,000-plus range to $1,000, Shaw and friends had already pocketed some $300 million dollars.

The state threatened prosecution of those who it felt overcharged for a gallon of gasoline in Katrina’s aftermath but apparently looked the other way for more influential profiteers.

Any odds on who gets the contract for the water chiller?

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More than a century ago, in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt, after a break with his friend and successor to the presidency, sought a then-unprecedented third term after a four-year absence from the political arena. In the process, he challenged Republican William Howard Taft’s re-election. Both men would ultimately lose to Woodrow Wilson.

But it was something that Roosevelt said in seeking to wrest the Republican nomination from Taft before breaking away to form the short-lived Bull Moose Party that resonates as clearly today as it did 105 years ago.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 750-page book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Gold Age of Journalism is a great read and was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that chronicles the close friendship between the two men, the exposés of several top magazine writers of the day, and the eventual split between Roosevelt and Taft.

Roosevelt who earned the title of trustbuster during his seven years in office (he succeeded William McKinley, who was assassinated in his first year in office), took on the meat packing industry, big oil, the railroads, and Wall Street banks in an effort to stem what he considered an alarming trend toward consolidation, mergers and monopolistic practices. He railed against the grossly unsanitary meat packing plants as exposed in Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, and he championed the economic plight of the working poor.

He also opposed child labor and fought for an eight-hour work day for women, for women’s right to vote, for worker protection, and for worker retirement benefits—ideas considered radical in his day but accepted today as the norm.

In 1912, he continued his onslaught, Kearns-Goodwin wrote, again taking on the special interests when while acknowledging that “every special interest is entitled to justice,” he said “not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.”

He advocated driving the “special interests out of politics” by enacting laws to forbid corporations from directly funding political objectives.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Does it sound as though he might have opposed the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision?

Fast forward to 2017 and the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges did a masterful job in a Wednesday STORY that illustrated just how the tail wags the dog when it comes down to attempts to come up with a revenue plan that makes sense when the interests of big business and industry are pitted against those of the citizens of this state.

In his story, Bridges reported how the Republican-dominated legislature was so overtly beholden to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that even one of its own, Republican State Rep. Kenny Havard of St. Francisville, was appalled and embarrassed—and said so.

Please understand that I am in no way defending or condemning the tax plan put forth by Gov. John Bel Edwards but suffice it to say the business-oriented mindset of lawmakers were going to see to it that nothing that cost business a red nickel was going to pass even if it meant Louisiana households were going to be saddled with higher taxes—and because of the actions of the House Ways and Means Committee, they now will be.

Bridges did one of the best jobs ever in revealing how legislators simply lack the courage, principles, integrity, honesty and, yes, the stones, to turn their backs on campaign contributions and other perks in order to do the right thing.

Too weak-willed to resist the temptation when the think no one is looking, they would rather accept campaign contributions and expensive dinners than to say, “No thanks, I would rather look out for the interests of my constituents.”

Those campaign contributions come from various corporate entities and from corporate officers of countless corporations from both within and outside the state and they are poured into the campaigns of lawmakers for one reason: to buy votes. To claim otherwise would be to be disingenuous, deceptive, and hypocritical.

And just to make sure they get the message, hordes of lobbyists descend on the Capitol like so many swarms of locusts every spring. They are there to remind representatives and senators, lest they have momentary memory lapses, how to vote on any number of bills where there might be a conflict between responsible legislation and the status quo of political favoritism. That’s why on any given night during the legislative session, you can find lawmakers dining at Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants, courtesy of the hundreds of lobbyists who, in turn, feast on the carcasses of bloated legislators. If not restaurant fare, there are always the crawfish boils in the parking lot of the Pentagon Barracks across the street from the Capitol.

The committee not only rejected Edwards’ tax plan but also that of a special blue-ribbon that examined the state’s tax code last year and made recommendations based on its findings.

Bridges quoted Havard, who said, ““If we don’t have the courage to do it now, for God’s sakes… let’s just keep what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years. Isn’t that the definition of insanity—keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? We’re not going to get different results. The only mistake I made was thinking you could make change … The whole system is set up against change.”

So now, Louisiana businesses and industries will continue to enjoy the same tax breaks, exemptions and credits perpetuated for years and ramped up by Bobby Jindal. Meanwhile, the burden, as always, will fall onto the backs of middle class Louisianans.

And the legislature will continue its annual struggle with the budget and the state will keep right on lurching down the road trying to contend with midyear cutbacks as revenue shortfalls continue and roads and bridges and physical facilities at colleges and universities fall farther and farther behind on desperately needed maintenance and as governmental services to the developmentally disadvantaged and the mentally ill continue to be cut—all so business and industry may never be called upon to help shoulder its share of the burden—and so the legislative perks may continue unabated.

Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War Simon Cameron would love Louisiana politics. It was Cameron who said, “An honest politician is one who, when bought, stays bought.”

Well, you can rest easy tonight in the knowledge that, by that measure, we have one of the most honest legislatures in the nation. They stayed bought and they will continue to reap campaign contributions and they will continue to shove expensive food and liquor down their gullets, courtesy of the special interests, namely LABI and its members.

Voting in favor of the bill by Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, were Reps. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans; Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans; Robert Johnson, D-Marksville; Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe; Ted James, D-Baton Rouge; and Major Thibaut, D-New Roads.

And, oh, in the interest of full disclosure, here are the names of those who killed Shadoin’s bill in order to keep corporate taxes down and your taxes high (and to allow themselves to continue receiving corporate campaign funds and to keep eating at Ruth’s Chris and Sullivan’s Restaurants, compliments of the lobbyist at the end of the table) were:

  • Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport (seabaugha@legis.la.gov);
  • Barry Ivey, R-Central (iveyb@legis.la.gov);
  • John “Jay” Morris, R-Monroe (morrisjc@legis.la.gov);
  • Jim Morris, R-Oil City (larep001@legis.la.gov);
  • Dodie Horton, R-Haughton (hortond@legis.la.gov);
  • Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge davisp@legis.la.gov);
  • Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez (schexnayderc@legis.la.gov);
  • Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice (devillierp@legis.la.gov);
  • Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles (dwights@legis.la.gov);
  • Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge (huvalm@legis.la.gov);
  • Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, candidate for State Treasurer (stokesj@legis.la.gov).

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To get past those cute but misleading TV ads, and arrive at a better understanding of just how the insurance industry really works, you need to understand first, that insurance companies are in the business to make money for their stockholders.

That’s it. There is no second. The policyholder is never taken into consideration when there is a claim. The mindset for the insurance company, no matter what name or logo is on its letterhead, is driven by one overriding question: How can we get out of this obligation with the least cost to shareholders?

It matters not one whit whether it is life, property & casualty, auto, or health insurance. The company’s very purpose for existing is not to see that policyholders are made whole but how the payout on claims may be minimized so as to inflict the least monetary damage to the company’s bottom line.

Do you think that life insurance claim that was slow paying off was simply to investigate whether or not the beneficiary had a part in the insured’s death? While that may be a part of it, particularly in cases of suspicious circumstances (such as falling off a cliff during a hike in Bryce Canyon), there may well be other factors involved, such as delaying payment as long as possible in order to accrue as much return on the investment of premiums as possible.

You didn’t really think the companies just leave that money lying around waiting for the insured to die, did you? No, it’s invested heavily in all sorts of things in order to earn money for the company.  https://www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/insurers-invest-nearly-7-billion-in-controversial-arms-trade

And it’s your money they do it with.

Did you ever wonder why your auto insurance company would suggest a particular body shop for repairs to your car after an accident? Why not the body shop of the dealer from whom the car was purchased? It could be—and often is—because the recommended body shop uses what is called “after-market” parts for repairs. That means the parts are generally inferior to those of the dealership’s original parts and can diminish the resale value of your vehicle. Did you ever notice that after repairs at some of those shops, the quarter panel replacement no longer fits flush with the original undamaged part of your car? Or you have air leaks (or worse, water leaks) around the replacement door that weren’t there before? That would be the likely result of after-market parts. http://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2015/02/12/anderson-cooper-360-piece-attacks-insurers-for-steering-parts-video/

You’re not happy, but your insurance company is ecstatic. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/08/insurers-auto-repair-tactics-only-part-of-problem-jindal-old-firm-mckinsey-co-coached-katrina-on-claims-delays-denials/

And who hasn’t experienced battles with health insurance companies that refused to cover a certain type of treatment because it’s considered “experimental.” Now, because of changes in the Office of Group Benefits instituted by the Jindal administration, state retirees who move out of state may find themselves no longer covered because their physicians are “out of network,” meaning they are non-participants in OGB’s coverage plan. Sorry, we don’t have any doctors in Arkansas or Mississippi who are part of the plan. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/25/louisianavoice-learns-of-jindal-plan-to-force-state-retirees-out-of-ogb-by-raising-members-premiums-cutting-benefits/

But by far, the most subtle method of claim manipulation is in the property & casualty field, namely your homeowners and flood insurance programs.

As we wrote in April, insurers will prepare repair estimates at two costs, depending on whether the damage to a home was caused by wind or flood. Repair estimates generally run much less on wind damage claims than for floods—even though the same material is used on each claim.

That is because the companies themselves are on the hook for any wind damage while flood damage, if covered at all, is the responsibility of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), claims for which are paid by the federal government, i.e. taxpayers.

But that’s not to say Allstate is averse to handling flood claims. Quite the contrary. Allstate, in fact, has had an arrangement with NFIP under which NFIP Allstate is paid for handling flood claims.

Accordingly, if Allstate found itself on the hook for wind damages, it would use a lower formula for paying claimants but if it determined the damages were caused by flooding, a second, more expensive separate formula would be employed.

In one example we found, damage was determined to be from wind and Allstate paid 83 cents per square foot for removal and replacement of drywall (sheetrock). In another claim from the same storm and in the same part of the state, it was determined to be flood damage and that same dry wall removal and replacement—paid for by American taxpayers—was $1.53 per square foot, a difference of 70 cents per square foot. Painting that drywall cost Allstate 35 cents per square foot for the wind-damage claim but cost NFIP (taxpayers) 58 cents per square foot for the flood damage claim.

That was not an anomaly. In comparing two 2011 claims from Tropical Storm Lee in southwest Louisiana, LouisianaVoice found that damage to one home was determined to be from wind. The cost of removing and replacing drywall (sheetrock) was estimated at $1.75 per square foot and painting of the drywall was estimated at 55 cents per square foot. That, of course was the cost to the insurance company, in this case, Colonial.

A second claim only a few miles away, also the result of Lee, was also for a home covered by Colonial. In this case, the damaged was determined to be the result of flooding, so the claim now belonged to NFIP. The estimate to remove and repair drywall for this home was $2.47 per square foot and the cost of painting that same drywall was estimated at 87 cents per square foot.

Assuming an area of 1000 square feet, you’re looking at a cost differential of $720 for removal and replacement of the drywall and a difference of $320 for painting, or an overall cost increase of $1,040 for repairs to a flood-damaged home compared to the wind-damaged structure.

By the time, other costs are factored in—costs for such things as replacing and painting molding, baseboards, doors and door frames, replacing electrical outlets and door hardware, removing and replacing windows and window trim, painting window frames, replacement of carpeting and/or wood flooring, the difference between a wind and a flood claim can be enormous.

And that doesn’t even include one other factor that goes into all estimates—overhead and profit (O&P) for the contractor. There has to be a profit for the contractor. That’s understandable; no one would expect him to repair your house for nothing.

But like the repairs themselves, the percentage of overhead and profit has a wide variance, depending on whether or not the damage is determined to be from wind or flooding.

LouisianaVoice has obtained three boxes of claims documents that not only reflect damning evidence of NFIP gouging on the costs of specific repairs, but in the allowance for contractor O&P, as well.

Built-in allowances for O&P for wind claims paid by the individual companies range around 20-29 percent. But for flood claims, paid by the American taxpayer through the NFIP, that O&P can range from 48 to 51 percent, according to documents in our possession.

For example, going back to 2005, O&P for one wind-damage claim was estimated at 28 percent for a Mississippi wind claim from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. But flood damage from the same hurricane resulted in contractor O&P of 51 percent. Both estimates were done by Allstate.

Wind damage from Hurricane Ida in Texas in 2009 resulted in a claim in which contractor O&P was 29 percent, according to Allstate damage estimates. But when damage from that same storm was determined to be from flooding, the contractor O&P shot up quickly, to 49 percent, Allstate documents show.

But Allstate and Colonial were not the only practitioners of such claim manipulation—not by a long shot. Here’s a story about how the game was played in the same manner by STATE FARM.

Project these tactics over a large, densely-populated area like that destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and at least one estimate of the increased cost from “padding” both specific damages and contractor overhead and profit has taxpayers in the two states being ripped off to the tune of approximately $10 billion.

And while strict insurance fraud laws are on the books that could result in a prison sentence if you so much as included a non-existent flat screen television on your claim, there apparently is no one minding the store to guard against raping the taxpayer-funded NFIP.

And as long as the insurance companies continue to pour money into the campaign coffers of members of Congress, state legislators and regulators, you can be sure there will never be.

Perfect.

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Allstate Insurance only wants its good hands on your wallet.

State Farm isn’t such a good neighbor, after all—especially in your time of greatest need.

Farmers has seen a thing or two and has learned a thing or two—about low-balling claims.

Nationwide isn’t on anyone’s side, no matter what Peyton Manning says.

And lest one think that political grandstanding by some members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation is a viable substitute for effective representation and an avenue to disaster recovery…think again.

U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves, apparently hoping to bolster his 2019 gubernatorial campaign, has issued a series misleading, mistaken and inappropriate claims about the disbursement of recovery funds.

His claim that his House colleagues are questioning what the state did with $438 million in recovery funds was absurd because, simply put, the money had never actually been received.

And he knows it. The claim was grandstanding in its purest form and made only in the interest of political capital to be gained. Flood victims in his district would be far better served by a more positive use of his office.

Sometimes you have to wonder why, when these guys are elected, they can’t just do their damned job.

Of course U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, also said to be casting a solicitous eye toward the governor’s mansion, couldn’t help offering, as is his custom, yet another of his trite homilies when he described the governor’s handling of the flood recovery contract as a “Three Stooges-like performance.” http://www.theadvocate.com/louisiana_flood_2016/article_a41326a0-1326-11e7-8805-574e2f9c803c.html

And the contract to administer the anticipated $1.6 billion in federal recovery funds was a major embarrassment because of the involvement of attorney Larry Bankston in trying to disqualify the low bidder when his son was employed by a firm affiliated with one of the losing bidders. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_aae4b7aa-101f-11e7-924b-037340aec399.html

Edwards must feel as if he’s being pecked to death by a duck.

Greater good could be achieved for all by taking the higher ground to enlightenment (to borrow a phrase employed by The Cincinnati Enquirer in describing a debate between William Howard Taft and former Democratic Secretary of State Richard Olney in the 1904 presidential race between Theodore Roosevelt and Alton B. Parker) instead of acting like a bunch of kids in a schoolyard fight.

People have been suffering for eight months now and they want to get back into their homes. They don’t need cheap campaign rhetoric; they want real answers.

And to compound their frustration, they now know they cannot look to their insurers for relief, either, thanks to lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/03/thousands_to_receive_small_pay.html

Thanks to a tactic affectionately known as Delay, Deny, Defend, introduced to Allstate and State Farm by McKinsey and Co. just in time for Hurricane Katrina, policyholders learned that insurers would rather fight than pay up. For every claimant who stuck it out and won a big award from his insurer, hundreds did just what the companies anticipated: they caved in and took settlements of pennies on the dollar simply because they didn’t have the resources to fight back.

http://www.delaydenydefend.com/excerpt/

Less than a week following the devastation of Katrina, Nationwide, on September 4, 2005, instructed its claims adjusters that “if loss is caused by both flood and wind, there is no coverage,” according to Mississippi Gulf Coast U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor.

Nine days later, on September 13, Taylor said State Farm instructed its adjusters that “where wind acts concurrently with flooding to cause damage to the insured property, coverage for the loss exists only under flood coverage.”

On-site damage assessment by engineer Jerome Quintero of Rimkus Consulting Group, contracted by Allstate to handle claims, said there was “insufficient physical evidence to determine the proportion of wind versus storm surge that destroyed (a) structure.”

That was in June 2006. But on November 4, Quintero’s conclusion of “insufficient physical evidence” was altered to read “Storm surge and waves destroyed the residence” by Rimkus staff who never visited the site. Quintero’s name was signed to the revised report without his knowledge, Taylor said.

So, in just those three examples, we have Nationwide, State Farm and Allstate implicitly telling their adjusters to blame Hurricane Katrina’s damage on water alone, thereby passing an inflated $23 billion bill on to American taxpayers.

Did we say inflated? Well, yes. As if that were not enough, Allstate devised a clever way of enriching itself while passing the cost of those claims on to the taxpayer-funded National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Documents obtained by LouisianaVoice show that Allstate, which had an arrangement with NFIP under which it paid Allstate for handling flood claims, took full advantage of that position to protect its own financial interests.

If Allstate found itself on the hook for wind damages, it would use one formula for paying claimants but if it determined the damages were caused by flooding, a second, separate formula was employed. The difference was eye-opening, to say the least.

The formulae varied, depending upon location and on whether or not Allstate deemed damage to be from wind or flooding.

In one location for which LouisianaVoice was provided documentation, for example, if damage was from wind, Allstate paid 83 cents per foot for removal and replacement of drywall (sheetrock). If it was determined to be flood damage, that same dry wall removal and replacement—paid for by American taxpayers—was $1.53 per foot, a difference of 70 cents per foot. Painting that drywall cost Allstate 35 cents per foot if the damaged was caused by wind but cost NFIP (taxpayers) 58 cents per foot if it was determined to be flood damage.

For an average 2,000-square-foot home, that is an extra cost of $1,747 that’s passed on to taxpayers for the drywall and an additional $1,148 for painting—a total overcharge of $2,895.

Assuming Allstate handled 20 percent of total claims for Katrina and Rita in Louisiana and Wilma in Florida, the company would have handled some 48,000 claims, costing the federal government as much as $645 million in inflated claims costs, including overhead and profit, which are also calculated into each claim.

In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the costs of removal and replacement of drywall was 50 cents per foot for wind damage and $1.12 per foot for flood damage. Painting was 26 cents per foot for wind and 83 cents for flood.

To remove and replace electrical outlets, the cost difference was even starker. For wind damage, the cost was $45.62 but if the damage was caused by flooding, Allstate reported a cost of $219.27 to NFIP.

Kermith Sonnier of Oberlin, Louisiana, is a public claims adjuster and provides the source of much of the information cited here. Company adjusters work for insurance companies and their work is generally geared toward saving the company every dime they can by low-balling claims or by denying them outright.

A public claims adjuster is independent who works only for claimants and Sonnier has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money doing just that.

Sonnier, with 38 years’ experience, was once a company adjuster for Farmers Insurance—until he learned a thing or two about the company.

He enjoyed an impeccable reputation in the claims adjustment industry, having worked the Exxon-Valdez claim in 1989, which until the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, was the worst oil spill in history.

In 1994, he was hired by Pilot which was under contract to Farmers to work claims stemming from the Northridge earthquake in California that year. But beginning in 1996, he said, Farmers began pressuring him to lower his loss estimates. He refused because he saw no grounds to do so and Farmers terminated him in 1997 despite a spotless work record. It gave as its reasons that it was reducing its work force even though it continued to hire other adjusters.

He sued for wrongful termination and won a stunning $10 million judgment against Farmers.

http://slabbed.org/2010/11/15/adjusters-special-employees-not-contractors-farmers-lost-10-4-million-wrongful-termination-case-filed-by-you-wont-believe-who/

He, along with other experts in the field of insurance claims, will be working closely with LouisianaVoice in the coming weeks as we explore how those goods hands people, those good neighbors and those who purport to know a thing or two and who claim to be on your side will, when the chips are down, will do everything legally possible—and sometimes things not legal—to minimize or even deny your claim altogether.

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