Melvin L. “Kip” Holden (DEM) Defeated 506640 45%
“Billy” Nungesser (REP) Elected 628876 55%
We’re not yet halfway through the 2016 legislative session in which lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards are struggling to close a $2 billion budget gap for the coming fiscal year but attention has been diverted from that knotty problem by one of the most bizarre political behavior since Earl Long’s mental crash of 1959, accompanied by a whirlwind tour of the Southwest and his fling with stripper Blaze Starr.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser fell for a phishing scam that’s been around at least three years and in doing so, proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that Louisiana’s electoral legacy of a revolving door for scalawags, con men, thieves and clowns is securely intact. And while we’re at it, let’s not leave out outright idiots and demagogues.
You’d think we had at least partially rid ourselves of that ilk with the exit of Bobby Jindal, but you’d be oh, so wrong. There apparently is no shortage of egos or stupidity to go around and sadly, we keep electing them. The legislature is riddled with those who have set themselves apart from reality.
Thanks to the diligence of Baton Rouge Advocate reporters Rebekah Allen and Richard Thompson, we are now assured that Billy Nungesser is heir-apparent to the title of Chief Clown in residence—a worthy successor to Jindal, we might add.
The two reporters on Sunday (April 10) broke an astonishing story that Nungesser, abetted by state Republican Chairman Roger Villere, not only fell for a huge scam involving a supposed agreement between a Delaware-based corporation, a Lake Charles refinery, and the Iraqi government, but he did it without the knowledge or consent of Gov. John Bel Edwards on whose behalf he claimed he was acting. http://theadvocate.com/news/politics/15398751-125/lt-gov-billy-nungesser-gop-chairman-roger-villere-work-to-recruit-unlikely-iraq-to-louisiana-busin
For sheer audacity, it even surpassed Huey Long’s classic “Round Robin” pledge by 15 senators to block his impeachment back in 1929. Huey, after all, was battling for his political life while Nungesser was only feeding his inflated ego like a ravenous wolf devouring a fresh deer carcass. And he fed it with a story that had no basis in fact. And he did it for all the world to see. And then he apologized. Sort of.
While Baton Rouge was metaphorically wiping its eyes and laughing at this buffoon, we did a quick Internet search and found that a former East Baton Rouge parish councilman and failed mayoral candidate fell for a variation of the same scheme involving the same Delaware corporation three years ago. More about that later.
First, here is what has transpired thus far:
- Villere, the state GOP brain bust…er, trust, apparently approached Nungesser for a new billion-dollar deal that involved a plan by Alexandros, Inc. http://alexandrosinc.com/index.html to partner with Pelican Refinery of Lake Charles http://www.pelican-refinery.com/index.html in signing a 25-year agreement to become the exclusive shipping company for the Iraqi government’s oil marketing arm, interchangeably called the State Organization for Marketing Oil and the State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO). The plan called for the transporting of up to 150 million barrels of Iraqi oil each month. http://www.alexandrosinc.com/shipping.html
- Alexandros, headed by CEO Markos Fuson of California, proposed reopening the former Avondale Shipyard on the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The facility shut down in 2014.
- Alexandros also proposed building more than 40 new ships, “super-tankers,” capable of hauling 200 million barrels of oil per month.
- Fuson supposedly committed to investing 100 percent of his profits from the venture in Louisiana’s motion picture industry and to then invest his share of film profits into an as-yet-to-be-created charitable foundation that would provide education, health care and housing assistance to Louisiana’s minorities.
- Pelican Refining’s role in the scenario was unclear, given the fact the Lake Charles facility only produces asphalt and road oil. It has not processed sweet or heavier crude oil in more than a decade, The Advocate quoted the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources as saying.
If all that sounds implausible enough, consider this: Nungesser, salivating over the prospects of establishing himself as the state’s economic emancipator, then took matters into his own hands. In quick succession, he:
- Issued a press release in March saying that Iraqi’s export agency had signed off on Alexandros’s request to partner with Pelican Refining to purchase light and heavy crude oil from SOMO.
- Inexplicably sent the press release only to the Washington Post which, recognizing a con when it saw one, chose not to publish the release.
- Represented himself in the news release as well as in letters to representatives of the Department of State and to Iraqi officials as Louisiana’s economic development recruiter (he’s not; that duty falls to the Secretary of Economic Development, in this case, Donald Pierson). “The honorable governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, has given me a directive to expedite economic stimulus for the state of Louisiana,” Nungesser lied in his letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, adding, “This request for Your Excellency’s advocacy is part of my office’s effort to fulfill that directive.”
- Wrote similar letters to Stuart Jones, ambassador to Iraq, and to Secretary of State John Kerry in which he again passed himself off as the state’s key economic development leader. “It is with sincere gratitude that I, Billy Nungesser, as the lieutenant governor of the state of Louisiana, respectfully request the Department of State’s additional advocacy to the Republic of Iraq on behalf of the state of Louisiana,” he wrote to Kerry and Stuart.
- Said in his letters that he copied Edwards with all correspondence. Not so, said a spokesman for the governor’s office, who said Edwards never received a copy.
- With egg all over his face, denied reading, let alone writing the letters that he signed. Instead, he officially kicked off the blame game, saying first that Villere, an old friend and political ally, had told him he wanted a letter expressing the state’s interest.
- In the lowest of lows, blamed his staff, saying the letters should never have made their way to his desk. “We’re changing the way some things flow in my office to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he was quoted as saying by The Advocate.
- Apologized to Edwards. “I would have never used the governor’s name without his permission,” he added.
Falah Alamri, SOMO director general, said the entire deal was a scam, “a hundred percent not real,” The Advocate story says.
But wait. Jeff DeRosia, operations manager for Grand Isle Shipyard in Galliano, says otherwise. “I know they’re real. One hundred percent,” he said. DeRosia, it should be noted also is executive vice president of domestic sales for Alexandros, according to Alexandros documents.
So just where does Villere figure in this entire sordid mess? Who knows? He did, however write his own letter back in February to the Iraqi prime minister and the minister of Oil, Adil Abd al-Mahdi in which he laid out the “urgent next steps that the state of Louisiana and the United States insist upon.” Some of those steps included SOMO’s granting legal authority and the issuing of contracts to Pelican Refining.
It’s still unclear how Villere considered himself in a position to insist on anything on behalf of the United States or Louisiana governments.
The three—Nungesser, Villere and DeRosia—would have been wise to do even the slightest bit of investigation before going off the reservation the way they did.
Our own quick search found a Web site called Ripoff Report in which a Baton Rouge writer in February 2013 warned of a similar scheme by Alexandros. http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/Alexandros-Inc/Highland-California-92346/Alexandros-Inc-Attempt-to-Defraud-with-Fake-Documents-Highland-California-1053139
In that report, Terry Easley produced a letter purportedly from the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization attesting to a professional relationship between Alexandros, Inc., Fuson, and the Iraqi government. The letter was signed, supposedly by Sarmad H. Abd, SOMO general manager of contracts, and John Percy de Jongh, Jr., governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Easley pointed out discrepancies in the letterhead of that sham letter, comparing it to one he received on April 29, 2013, from SOMO Director General Alamri. The Alamri letter, he said, was on the correct letterhead, complete with correct logos, addresses and contact information in both English and Arabic. Here are the contents of that letter:
TO: Mr. Terry L. Easley
Reference to you letter dated 26th April 2013.
Please note the following:
1-The Document attached to your above letter is fraud and has never been issued by SOMO.
2-SOMO has no business relationship whatsoever neither with a company named “Alexandros, Inc.” nor with a person called “Sarmad H. Abd”.
3-Our policy is to deal directly and exclusively with End Users (refining system owners) and not through traders or middlemen.
Dr. Falah J. Alamri
Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) Fax: + 964 1 7726 574 / + 964 1 7742 979
PO Box 5118 Email: info@somooil. Gov. Iq
Baghdad – Iraq Web: www.somooil. Gov. Iq
The fake letter that precipitated the above response from Alamri, Easley said, was also copied to one Darrell Glasper of Baton Rouge. Glasper, for those outside the Baton Rouge area, was a member of the Baton Rouge Metro Council and ran for mayor-president against incumbent Kip Holden in 2008. He later admitted to paying for a campaign flier during that election which included doctored photos depicting Holden after being severely beaten by the husband because of an affair between the two.
Ironically, seven years later Nungesser would defeat Holden in an election for the lieutenant governor’s office.
The Baton Rouge media and a prominent blogger lost no time jumping all over the hapless and apparently clueless Nungesser.
Reporter Stephanie Grace, saying on Tuesday (April 12) that Nungesser had gone rogue, pointed out that in a 2011 forum between lieutenant governor candidates, Jay Dardenne pounded Nungesser on the duties of the office while Nungesser countered by saying he was one who followed his gut and “thinks outside the box.” http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/15457076-133/stephanie-grace-nungesser-goes-rogue-on-whacky-economic-deal
Grace said in his first big move after taking office in January, he “proved he’s thinking much further outside the box than anyone could have imagined.”
Saying that Nungesser “has no authority over economic development, no right to speak for the governor, and no place contacting the U.S. government, a national news organization, or a foreign head of state” on behalf of Edwards, she did give him a backhanded compliment in noting that he “basically fessed up to have had no idea what he was doing.”
She suggested that Nungesser make a call to Dardenne, who now serves as Commissioner of Administration. “I’m guessing he’d (Dardenne) would be perfectly happy to, once again, school Nungesser on what the day job entails—and what it doesn’t.”
Political blogger Lamar White wasn’t quite as kind.
In his post today (April 12), White suggested that far from being funny, Nungesser’s actions are impeachable. https://cenlamar.com/2016/04/12/lt-gov-nungessers-scam-deal-isnt-funny-its-impeachable/
I disagree. I think to save himself further humiliation, he should take it upon himself to resign.
Even more biting, however, was White’s quote from Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, another political blog: “I always used to wonder what kind of person fell for those Nigerian prince email scams. This says a lot.”
White called Nungesser’s actions “an enormous embarrassment to Louisiana, a blatant usurpation of the statutory power of the Lt. Governor’s office.” He said it also “demonstrates both an enormous disrespect to Gov. John Bel Edwards, for whom Nungesser deliberately misrepresented as working under his authority and blessing, and a fundamental and damaging misunderstanding of the duties of his office.”
He referred to Nungesser’s claim of never having read the letters he signed and his blaming of his staff as “pathetic.”
Not overlooking the role of the state GOP chairman in the fiasco, White said Villere’s “intimate involvement, at the very least, warrants an investigation into criminal conspiracy.”
But then he observed, perhaps correctly that Nungesser need not fear the consequences. “Louisiana is too busy laughing at him to worry about actually holding him accountable.”
There is a lot of stupid to go around in Baton Rouge but with this stunt, Nungesser may have laid claim to franchise rights.
And that is particularly pathetic.