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It took an article in Everybody’s magazine by writer Charles Edward Russell to embarrass the state of Georgia into enacting reforms to the state’s inmate work release program. Following a special legislative session called to address that specific problem, the governor signed into law a compromise bill which, while restructuring the program, still assigned certain inmates to work release programs administered by private contractors for up to one year.

All Russell did was to follow the trail of a single inmate from his conviction for the theft of $300 from his employer, to his sentence of four years’ jail time to his selection for work release under the supervision of a private firm that would be responsible for his housing, his feeding, his rehabilitation, and his work assignment.

The food was of low quality, often inedible. No education programs or practical job training were offered him or the other inmates, medical care was unheard of, and recidivism was off the charts.

His every movement was made under the watchful eye of the armed guards and any prisoner who made a mistake or who did not meet his work quota paid a price.

It was a great arrangement for everyone but the prisoners. True, they broke the law and society says one must be punished for transgressions against it. No one argues that point. But as more and more prisoners were shuttled off on the private concerns, the state had fewer and fewer prisoners to care for, to feed, to educate, or to provide medical car for.

The private concerns, meanwhile were reaping huge profits through what had become a form of legalized slavery and everyone was happy but those upon whose backs the profits were being realized.

And when Russell wrote his story, it was only natural that the Georgia legislature and the governor went just a little ballistic. “Georgia didn’t waste any time finding fault with us for calling attention to the spot on her pretty gown,” said the magazine in an editorial afterwards. “All we did was criticize.”

Typically, however, when the light is focused on widespread and ingrained abuses, it is the abuser who squeals the loudest, professing to have been grievously wronged by what one prominent politico likes to call “fake news.”

But it’s not fake news. Not now and not in 1908 when Russell actually wrote his story for the long-defunct Everybody’s magazine. His story was reprinted in The Muckrakers: Journalism that Changed America, a BOOK comprising a compilation of investigative newspaper stories edited by Judith and William Serrin.

The practice described by Russell more than a century ago, lives on. It has been tweaked, adjusted, and fine-tuned but remains basically the same and today is making a lot of people wealthy. It was called convict leasing then. Today, it’s called by a much more benign name: transitional work program. It is better known as work release.

CONVICT LEASING actually predates the Civil War in Louisiana. It was legalized slavery then and not much better today. Its popularity mushroomed following the Civil War and the loss of slave labor as southern politicians saw it as a natural alternative to the real thing. It was no coincidence that the vast majority of “leased” convicts were African-Americans.

Private concerns profiteered off prisoners and they still do, even if in methods that are a little subtler. And just as it was when Russell wrote his story, the practice is sanctioned, encouraged even, by the political establishment.

And just to make sure the skids continued to be greased, lawmakers from the halls of Congress to state legislatures annually pile on more and more bills calling for stricter and stricter sentences for even non-violent offenders, thus ensuring the beds in those privately-run prisons and sheriff-run parish jails will stay full. This in turn guarantees that the payments from the feds and the state will keep rolling in and those prisoners can be farmed out to private companies.

In reality, it is a system that feeds on itself.

Convict leasing, simply defined, is a method of control and distribution of convict labor practiced mainly in the southern states, including Louisiana. Contractors would pay the state a bargain basement price to take control of a given number of prisoners. Some of these private concerns, desperate for labor, included planters and manufacturers. Some contractors used the convict labor in their businesses while others were nothing more than labor brokers, or middle men, who sublet the prisoners to other concerns.

Unlike other southern states, convict leasing in Louisiana continued almost non-stop from 1844 to 1901.

It wasn’t until 1892 that efforts began in earnest to abolish the practice. Gov. Murphy J. Foster (does that name sound familiar?) supported those opposed to the leasing practice. The Louisiana Constitution of 1898, passed during his administration, abolished both convict leasing and the Louisiana lottery, which had become a notorious source of corruption. The last lease for convict labor expired in 1901 and the state took over operations of what is now the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

In Georgia, the practice continued until it was OUTLAWED by the legislature in 1908, the same year Russell wrote his story for Everybody’s magazine.

Exactly what is to be gained from work release?

Well, of course those who run the programs are quick to point out that prisoners are learning a trade.

That’s strictly a subjective evaluation at best. Swabbing the floors of a chicken processing plant isn’t very appealing as a career choice for most people, even prisoners.

Maya Lau wrote an excellent STORY for The Shreveport Times about one work release inmate in the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department’s work release program prior to moving to the Baton Rouge Advocate. Lau, now with the Los Angeles Times, reported that the inmate was paid $7.75 an hour, barely more than minimum wage. Of that amount, the sheriff’s office claimed up to 62 percent right off the top. Multiply that by the number of total hours all prisoners in the program work in fiscal year 2011-12, the latest year data were available for Lau’s Jan. 7, 2015, story and you come up with a cool $500,000 added to the Caddo Sheriff’s Department’s general fund.

That was in addition to the $25 per day the sheriff’s office was paid for housing state inmates and $47 per day per prisoner paid by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for federal inmates, most of whom have committed no greater crime than being illegal aliens.

Moreover, there are those commissaries operated by the private prisons that reach deeper into inmates’ pockets. With literally a captive clientele, private prisons were able to charge $4 for a Honey Bun and $5 for a cold drink. That’s according to Baton Rouge Public Radio reporter Sue Lincoln, who did an outstanding series on THE PRICE of JUSTICE earlier this year. It’s no wonder, then, that Correct Commissary, LLC, of Ruston approached the Lincoln Parish Police Jury several months ago about constructing a 50,000-square-foot commissary warehouse on the site of the former Ruston Municipal Airport. The company packages snack boxes that it sells to prison inmates, according to An April 2, 2017 article in the Ruston Daily Leader.

After 11 weeks, the prisoner about whom Lau wrote, took home a grand total of $416, or about $37.82 per week.

And what about businesses who employ work release inmates?

Well, besides the low wages, there is the obvious benefit of not having to pay for medical insurance or contribute to retirement funds—or to pay each such employee two weeks’ vacation pay each year. One could make the case that using this cheap prison labor could be knocking non-inmates out of jobs.

But that’s not the only consideration. For every work release inmate employed, the state gives the employer a whopping $2,400 tax credit. That’s not a tax deduction, but a full-blown tax credit, meaning that amount is lopped right off the top of the company’s tax bill. So, a company like the Foster Farms chicken processing plant in Farmerville in Union Parish, which uses up to 200 inmates from work release, gets an instant reduction of up to $480,000 off its state tax bill.

A 2016 AUDIT by the Legislative Auditor’s Office revealed that there were 8,700 prisoners in work release programs across the state. That computes to nearly $21 million in tax credits—and that’s in addition to the $80 million or so the state pays private and parish prisons for housing inmates.

And while the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 may have abolished plantation slavery, it may have unwittingly opened the door to another form of slavery that while flying below the radar, nevertheless remains legal more than a century-and-a-half later, enriching the modern slaveowner, aka private and parish prisons.

So, it is understandable perhaps that Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator was so FURIOUS at the new Louisiana sentencing and parole laws that go into effect on Nov. 1. The new law will mean the release of about 1400 non-violent offenders. He will, he says, lose some of his best CAR WASHING prisoners.

 

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Normally, I discount any and all get-rich-quick schemes on the premise if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.

But now I have to admit I’ve inadvertently stumbled across the perfect path to prosperity that is fraught with few pitfalls other than a harmless disciplinary letter (which can be appealed anyway) and perhaps the scorn of more ethical co-workers. But who cares about that anyway?

And it’s not a pyramid scheme, so go on and put that thought aside.

In fact, in addition to potentially untold riches, there are other benefits—like cross-country vacations, trips to beautiful, historic places, and parties in balmy climates for an entire weekend.

So, here’s my plan and the more readers who participate, the better for all of us:

Find a convention, a seminar or any other such event that can be chalked up to business, preferably halfway across the country, say San Diego, for example. Check out a company vehicle, load up a few co-workers and maybe even a wife if you’re so inclined, and strike out. (Note: it has to be a company vehicle; a personal car would defeat the whole purpose. It would be even better if it is a car normally assigned to a company supervisor.)

As you travel, make it a leisurely drive, complete with side trips to places like Las Vegas, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. It’s okay if you send texts to your bosses along the way but be sure to save them and for goodness sake, put all photos on Facebook. I’ll explain why this is important momentarily.

And here’s where the big money comes in. As you travel, remember: You’re on the clock, even when you sleep. This is crucial! You are never off the clock the entire trip, even when you’re posing for those photos at those lovely landmarks to text to your supervisors (who, by the way, are going to delete their text messages so as not to leave a digital trail). If you work it right, each of you can claim 88 or so straight hours—at the overtime rate of about $53 an hour.

Yes, it’s payroll fraud, but who cares? You company isn’t going to prosecute you for this because you did what you did with the full knowledge and approval of your supervisors—and they’re certainly not talking. It doesn’t matter whether or not you personally knew it was wrong; you’re just following orders.

If you’ve already done the math, you know by now that you’ve pocketed about $4,600 in pay you did not earn but again, you did it with the knowledge and blessings of those up the chain of command. As you make this assertion, you now are thankful you followed my advice and kept those those text messages to prove that you were keeping the brass informed of your every move along the way. That could come in handy later.

When the fecal matter hits the Westinghouse oscillating air manipulation device, everyone of course runs for cover. Your bosses, in a united show of righteous indignation, say you were never authorized to take the scenic route to San Diego and of course their text messages are mysteriously empty.

Wait. What? You didn’t save your text messages? You bonehead! That was your insurance policy, your ace in the hole! Oh, well, if all of you stick together, you can still make this work.

In a classic CYA move, the company honchos conduct an in-house “investigation,” issue a letter of reprimand and make you pay back $1,000 of your ill-gotten gains. And as you file the obligatory appeal, you break out in that Cheshire cat grin in the knowledge that you’re $3,500 to the good with no suspension.

And this is where I come into the picture.

In exchange for my giving you this blueprint to riches, you pay me a finder’s fee of $1,000 and you’re still $2,500 and a nice vacation ahead.

LouisianaVoice has something north of 3,000 subscribers so if I can get just a third of that number to pull off this scam, I’m a millionaire and there are a lot of happy, tanned vacationers out there who are eternally grateful to me for this brilliant plan.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_da072764-8f47-11e7-a6e8-775b365af741.html

State Police stock

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Louisiana Voice made a couple of public records requests of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter for records of purchases made from businesses owned by two of his deputies, purchases that would constitute a violation of state ethics laws governing public employees doing business with agencies for whom they work.

A 1995 opinion by the State Ethics Commission addresses just such a scenario (CLICK HERE). It says that the owner of Fire Apparatus Specialties, who also serves as Assistant Fire Chief of the Third District Volunteer Fire Department in Jefferson Parish, purchased equipment from his company on behalf of the fire department in violation of state ethics laws.

In all, there are more than 80 opinions by the Ethics Commission that address various schemes in which agency heads or employees sold goods and/or services to their agencies—all of which are violations of the law.

In Terrebonne Parish, Brent Hidalgo and Douglas Chauvin, Jr. are sheriff’s deputies.

Hidalgo also owns Promotek, LLC, a screen printing and embroidery company in Houma that sells specialty items like shirts, caps and mugs with company and organization names imprinted on the product.

Douglas Chauvin, III, owns First Circuit, LLC, an electrician firm in Bourg, Louisiana.

PROMOTEK, LLC Limited Liability Company HOUMA Active

 

Previous Names
Business: PROMOTEK, LLC
Charter Number: 41228919K
Registration Date: 7/16/2013

 

Domicile Address
226 EXETER RUN
HOUMA, LA 70360

 

Mailing Address
226 EXETER RUN
HOUMA, LA 70360

 

Status
Status: Active
Annual Report Status: Not In Good Standing for failure to file Annual Report
File Date: 7/16/2013
Last Report Filed: 2/3/2017
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

 

Agent: BRENT HIDALGO
Address 1: 226 EXETER RUN
City, State, Zip: HOUMA, LA 70360
Appointment Date: 7/16/2013

 

Officer: BRENT HIDALGO
Title: Manager
Address 1: 226 EXETER RUN
City, State, Zip: HOUMA, LA 70360

 

 

Name Type City Status
FIRST CIRCUIT, LLC Limited Liability Company HOUMA Active

 

Business: FIRST CIRCUIT, LLC
Charter Number: 36559236K
Registration Date: 10/9/2007

 

Domicile Address
140 TYLER CHRISTIAN DRIVE
HOUMA, LA 70343

 

Mailing Address
C/O DOUGLAS J. CHAUVIN, III
140 TYLER CHRISTIAN DRIVE
HOUMA, LA 70360

 

Status
Status: Active
Annual Report Status: In Good Standing
File Date: 10/9/2007
Last Report Filed: 9/19/2016
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Registered Agent(s)

 

Agent: LAW OFFICE OF PHILIP A. SPENCE, L.L.C.
Address 1: 7706 MAIN STREET
Address 2: SUITE 201
City, State, Zip: HOUMA, LA 70360
Appointment Date: 5/2/2017

 

Officer(s) Additional Officers: No 

 

Officer: DOUGLAS CHAUVIN, III
Title: Manager
Address 1: 140 TYLER CHRISTIAN DRIVE
City, State, Zip: HOUMA, LA 70360

LouisianaVoice received reports that the sheriff’s department purchased all its shirts, with logos of the department, from Hidalgo’s firm and that Chauvin’s electrical company had performed work for the sheriff’s department despite prohibitions of employees or their immediate family members from doing business with an agency that employed them.

A public records request for any payments made to the two firms or to Hidalgo or Chauvin directly resulted in a response from Larpenter that said in part, “…this office has never paid anything to Brent Hidalgo or any of his family members, representatives or employees or Douglas or Doug Chauvin or any of his family members, representatives or employees.”

Fair enough, Sheriff. That seems to be a reasonable and timely response.

Except….except…well, one of your deputies says you may be back-dooring the purchases—at least insofar as Hidalgo is concerned.

The deputy, who for obvious reasons must protect his identity, says that Larpenter’s deputies are required to personally purchase any shirts they are required to wear but that they are directed to Brent Hidalgo as the vendor and that Hidalgo handles all such transactions.

That’s a pretty gray area. A 2011 Board of Ethics opinion, (read it HERE) quite clearly says, the owner of just such a specialty company who also was a member of the Covington City Council “would not be prohibited from selling products with the city logo, through his company, to city employees so long as the city employee pays for such products with his or her personal funds.”

That seems cut and dried but the key word is directed, as “directed to Brent Hidalgo.” It would seem as long as the purchases are 100 percent voluntary, Hidalgo and Larpenter would have no problem with Hidalgo’s selling shirts to deputies. But if our deputy is accurate in saying they are directed to purchase from Hidalgo, then what we would seem to have is an implied contract between Hidalgo and Larpenter.

That same 2011 opinion also says the council member would be prohibited from using the employees of the City of Covington “as a channel to enter into a transaction with his agency.”

Some may call this distinction an example of splitting hairs, but if deputies are in fact directed to Hidalgo by Larpenter, that does present an entirely different scenario than that represented in the 2011 opinion.

Perhaps the sheriff will address this in the special staff meeting he has called for tomorrow (Friday).

 

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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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