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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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As I listen all the gun rights advocates voicing support of the sacred Second Amendment, I find myself wondering how we have reached a point where their noise is allowed to drown out the pleas for common sense gun laws, i.e. bans on assault weapons, bump stocks, thorough background checks, etc.

The NRA, with its lobbying prowess and its purchase of members of Congress, has taken over the debate and its sycophants are lined up to chant a-la the Stepford Wives the gospel of the rights of the gun owners, supposedly represented by sportsmen who go out in search of big game in order to put meat on the family table.

All too often, however, the true sentiment is more accurate expressed in more realistic terms:

For a clearer image of this decal, I pulled this from an online website:

When, in the wake of the Parkland shootings that left 17 dead, Donald Trump incredulously said we should “take the guns first, go through due process second,” (something even the most diehard advocate of gun control has never said), his conservative BASE went into a state akin to apoplexy, and rightly so.

Of course, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s comment about New England weather, if you don’t like what comes out of Trump’s mouth, you need only wait a couple of minutes because his position is certain to change. There appears to be no limits to his imbecilic utterances and actions.

Yes, the Second Amendment clearly says, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

There’s no debate about the wording but there is nothing in that that says we have an unlimited right to any and all types of arms. In fact, when the Second Amendment was adopted, there were no such things as assault weapons, grenades, land mines, tanks, missiles.

But no one—NO ONE—would argue to take away your rifle, your double-barrel shotgun, or your Colt 45 six-shooter. So, let’s clear the air of that silly argument.

But while gun rights advocates hold up the Second Amendment as the holy grail of the Spirit of Freedom and the American Way, there’s another amendment those same people seem to conveniently overlook:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

What we have instead is a growing chorus of “fake news” echoed by the Trump base because, like Trump, their vocabularies are so painfully limited and their intellect, like their dear leader’s, so mired in simple banalities that they can only parrot his talking points—talking points that, it turns out, were field tested by an outfit called CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA.

How’s that for irony: cries of fake news prompted by a foreign company that coined the phrase?

But never mind all that: the term fake news has been so popularized by Trump that it’s caught on with such LUMINARIES as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Chinese state media, the Russian foreign ministry, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, and others of similar stripe.

Now we even have politicians trying to turn the phrase into attempts at CENSORSHIP, a movement every bit as dangerous as any perceived threat to gun ownership.

Had there been censorship;

  • Meat packing plants would still be turning out diseased meat for our ingestion.
  • The Teapot Dome scandal might never have come to light.
  • Sweatshops where children and women slaved away for 14 hours a day might still flourish—in factories with locked doors so workers would be unable escape in case of fire.
  • Worker safety in any form, in fact, might be non-existent.
  • Minimum wage might still be pennies per hour—with no benefits.
  • Automobile safety? Who needs that? Who could even afford an automobile?
  • Without freedom of the press, Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed may never have been reined in.
  • Nixon would’ve gotten away with his crimes.
  • We might still be losing American lives in a place called Vietnam were it not for writers like the late David Halberstam. (In fact, it was the failure of the press to follow up on the lies of the Johnson Administration that allowed the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident propel us into an unprecedented escalation of that war.)
  • The Pentagon Papers would never have come to light.
  • McClure’s Magazine could never have exposed illegal practices by the railroads or by Standard Oil.
  • Inhumane treatment of the mentally ill would have remained a dark secret.
  • Seymour Hersh might never have revealed illegal CIA spying on Americans—in America because of press freedom.

There are many, many other examples—far too many to list here—that illustrate how a free press has contributed to the well-being of Americans. So, to all you out there who have obediently latched on to the FAKE NEWS term as your rallying cry, you’re in good company. You should be proud of yourselves for being able to think for yourself and for being able to express your individuality in the same way as the rest of the Trumpettes—just like Cambridge Analytica intended.

But it remains a mystery to me how 35 percent of the people in the most advanced nation on the face of the earth can remain so inconsistent in supporting one amendment to the Bill of Rights, a doctrine you have elevated to sacred status, while at the same time belittling another of those same amendments.

You can’t have it both ways. I’ll repeat that: You can’t have it both ways. Either the Bill of Rights is the basis of freedom in this country or it’s not. If you support one, you must support them all. It’s a package deal.

Yet we have ELECTED OFFICIALS taking up the call of fake news any time there’s a news story with which they do not agree or that puts them in a bad light.

We are not perfect in the press, far from it. In fact, I recently misinterpreted the intent of a bill by State Sen. Dan Claitor and pilloried him for it when in fact, I should have been praising him. I thought his bill was a serious attempt at mandating retirement of all elected officials at age 70 when in fact, he was trying to show the hypocrisy of the law requiring that all judges retire at 70.

But despite our occasional shortcomings, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS is every bit as important to the ability of Americans to remain free as the freedom to bear arms. Period.

If you can’t agree with that, you are a hypocrite in every sense of the word.

The worst kind of hypocrite, in fact, because you’re lying to yourself.

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Louisiana residents victimized by floods and hurricanes don’t need a reminder of the frustrating-ineptness of the Feeble Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or of the soul-crushing corruption of the Department of Housing and Urban Discrimination (HUD).

FEMA trailers, more appropriately designed as egg incubators than dwellings for human beings, stand as mute testimony to mismanagement on a grand scale. At a COST of $150,000 to $170,000 per trailer, including purchase and set-up following the 2016 flood, only to SELL the units for as little as $5,000 each a year later, it’s difficult to imagine even the Pentagon being able to match FEMA in a waste-for-waste competition.

With 144,000 trailers PLACED following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, and another 4,500 (upgrades vastly superior to the earlier models but still little better than a tent) following the 2016 floods, one can readily see how FEMA now claims to be broke.

Another reason? Try this: Following Hurricane Katrina, The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square) after Katrina. 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.

In normal circumstances, MIKE LOWERY, an estimator for an Austin, Texas, company, said, his company would charge $300 to tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job, the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as much, plus additional administrative fees that couldn’t be readily calculated.

FEMA ISSUED 81,241 blue roof tarps across Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said spokesman Aaron Walker ($14.2 million total cost: $8.1 million for Shaw as opposed to $162,000 for those who did the actual work).

But if you think that’s bad, consider this: “Overall, Restore Louisiana (the program set up to assist flood victims) has awarded $207 million of the $1.3 billion allotment from the federal government to homeowners,” according to a story in the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Of that amount, only $60.5 million has actually been paid to those driven out of their homes by the floods. The remaining $147 million is being paid in increments to contractors as work progresses.

At the same time, however, the state has shelled out $75 million to IEM, the contracted administrator for environmental reviews and program management. That means administrative costs are 23.4 percent higher than the amount actually spent helping flood victims. Said another way, the amount spent on actual work is only 80 percent of administrative costs so far.

IEM’s total contract to administer the $1.3 billion Restore Louisiana program is for an eye-popping $308 million. That computes to administrative costs that are 19.25 percent of the total contract but which appear to be running closer to 26.6 percent at the present time.

Contrast that, if you will, with contracts the Ruston firm of Hunt, Guillot has received to date to administer Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the recovery of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike and to administer CDBG funds for the Restore Louisiana program set up immediately following the 2016 floods.

Hunt, Guillot received a contract for $18.2 million to administer the disbursement of $7.5 billion in grant funds for LOUISIANA. That contract ran from Oct. 31, 2007, to Oct. 30, 2010. The firm was given an additional contract of $3 million for the period of Feb. 1, 2011, through June 3, 2011 for Katrina and Rita recovery grant funds. IEM’s $308 million contract is 14.5 times the size of Hunt, Guillot’s $21.2 million in contracts even though Hunt, Guillot oversaw the disbursement of nearly six times the amount in federal grants that IEM is responsible for.

IEM’s contract was not without CONTROVERSY, but it probably didn’t hurt that IEM and the company’s CEO, Madhu Beriwal, combined to contribute $15,000 to the campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

But even putting aside all the outrageous administrative costs that are eating up dollars intended to help flood victims, here is the one overriding factor that leads writers like Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and others to write INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS about the incestuous relationship between natural disasters and corruption?

Could it be that 19 months after thousands of Louisiana residents were forced out of their homes in South Louisiana, only $207 million of a total allocation of $1.3 billion for reconstruction has been approved and checks written for only $60 million even as administrative costs mount?

Could it be that a visit to observe activities at Restore Louisiana headquarters reminds visitors of the organizational skills of a sack of rats in a burning meth lab?

Could it be the frustration encountered by State Rep. Rogers Pope who, first told he qualified for an SBA loan of $250,000 (even though he never applied) but later told it was actually for a lesser amount, responded that he was not interested in a loan of any description but that $50,000 was nevertheless deposited in his bank account by the SBA—and when he insisted again that he did not want the money, was charged $384 in interest for the week that it was in his bank account? (for those of you who may be wondering, that computes to an annual interest rate of 40 percent.) And get this: Pope is a member of the Restore Louisiana Task Force and even he can’t deal with the feds.

Could it be that an applicant who applied for assistance was told that because he had obtained an SBA loan of $124,000, he was ineligible for a grant? The person in question here was yours truly and I was told that the loan was considered a benefit. I’m a 74-year-old retiree on a fixed income, with a brand-new $124,000 mortgage and I’m supposed to consider that a benefit?

What’s more, I’m told, even if I had been offered the loan, and turned it down, I’d still be ineligible because it was offered. (I think that’s what’s called a Catch-22.) And just to add insult to injury, I was told (after at least four separate on-site inspections by FEMA, Restore Louisiana, and Shelter at Home) I was only allowed $60,000 for reconstruction (someone needs to tell my contractor who charged what I considered to be a reasonable fee of $90,000 to make my home livable again—the remainder went to replace furniture and appliances).

I was told at the time of receiving the news of my ineligibility that I could, of course, appeal. “But the appeal won’t do any good,” the nice man said, “because we’re only going by the rules established by FEMA and HUD guidelines.” (A Catch-22 variable.)

It’s the kind of FUBAR guvmint that can send you to a padded room where you’re allowed only crayons as a means of communication.

And if you think I’m angry, consider the frustration level of Stephen Winham of St. Francisville.

Winham, often a LouisianaVoice guest columnist, for 12 years was the state’s budget director, serving under three governors, so he, of all people, should be accustomed to navigating the confusing waters of state bureaucracy. He was, nevertheless, finally moved to send the following email to an official of Restore Louisiana:

I have NEVER seen as poorly run a program as Restore Louisiana and I have seen some poorly run programs in my 21 years of state budget analysis.  If the contractor for whom you work represents the benefits of privatizing public services we are in deep manure, particularly since our worst governor ever, Bobby Jindal, moved us to new heights in that direction.

I have talked on the phone and communicated with your company many times.  I did not initially apply because I knew I was not eligible.  I allowed one of your employees to talk me into applying anyhow, so I did – I assume this was done to get the numbers up.  In subsequent steps, it was confirmed I was never eligible and should never have bent to the pressure put on me to apply.  In other words, I was officially ruled ineligible months ago.

This correspondence and any phone conversations I might have with you would be a waste of my time – your company is apparently going to get its money no matter what so I have no interest in saving you money.  Your company has spent $75 million on itself so far and only disbursed $60 million to the people who really need it – the homeowners.  Do you not see a problem with that?

Although I am not eligible, I have a sister-in-law who is.  My wife and I have tried to help her work through the many meaningless steps necessary to get her Restore Louisiana grant and she has not gotten a dime yet.  My wife has hauled her down to Celtic Studios more than once.  She has had visits from what I assume are project managers/coordinators many times.  She has completed the necessary paperwork at every step.  She has been advised of the amount of her “award” (her part of the $207 million in reported awards, $147 million of which apparently remain undisbursed), but has gotten ZERO.  The people who live across the street from my East Baton Rouge property just started LAST WEEK on work to restore their home pursuant to their Restore Louisiana “award”

I think your company is taking the public for a ride – oh, I know, this is federal money – I am doing my federal taxes today – I guess that never was my money to begin with, or something.  These things should be block granted.  If the eligible recipients take their grants down to a convenient casino and blow it rather than fixing their homes, that’s their problem and it is also better than creating what to me is essentially a pyramid of contractors and sub-contractors each getting their golden crumbs as the grants trickle down to the people who should be getting the money.

Sorry for taking this out on you and you probably haven’t even read this far, but on the off chance you have, LEAVE ME ALONE and devote your attention to eligible recipients many of whom have been waiting over a year and a half for relief.

Your federal—and state—guvmint hard at work for you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. The best we can hope for is that we never need the their “help” in the future.

(Editor’s note: for the record, a class-action lawsuit is being considered because of the discriminatory policies of HUD and FEMA. More details on that as they are forthcoming.)

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Corruption.

As the March 12 opening day of the critical 2018 regular session approaches, and with the looming possibility of the call of a special session to address fiscal Armageddon, it’s an important word for Louisiana citizens to remember.

Corruption.

In a state where administrators, legislators, and judges all seem to be in it for personal enrichment, it’s a word that has become synonymous with political office—from small town mayors, city councils and police chiefs to the highest levels of state government.

Corruption.

Like a cancer, corruption metastasizes until it adversely affects every aspect of our lives: education, economics, environment, health, and not least, trust in our elected officials.

Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, recently collaborated to conduct their fourth Corruption in America Survey, an undertaking first initiated in 2014 and repeated annually.

Since 2016, the survey has been hosted by the newly-founded Institute for Corruption Studies, an independent research institute within the Illinois State University’s Department of Economics.

More than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across 50 states participated in the survey. Reporters from every state except North Dakota and New Hampshire participated.

Click HERE to read the complete results.

To no one’s surprise, Louisiana ranks among the worst states in terms of executive, judicial, and legislative sleaze—in both legal and illegal corruption.

What, exactly, it meant by legal and illegal corruption? After all, corruption is corruption, is it not?

Well, yes and no. Illegal corruption was defined by Dincer and Johnston as “the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

How Gauche. Everyone knows that in Louisiana the preferred method is legal corruption, which the two researchers defined as “the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.”

For evidence of that, one need look no further than the LouisianaVoice STORY of Aug. 28, 2016, to see how Bobby Jindal, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and a gaggle of legislators fell all over themselves in protecting the big oil and gas companies from their responsibilities to clean up after themselves. Here is a more detailed look at .

Who better to serve as director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority than former State Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish, the top recipient of OIL AND GAS CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS?

And Bobby Jindal handed out appointments to the most influential boards and commissions to his biggest campaign contributors like candy on a Halloween night and even upgraded a major highway in South Louisiana to benefit a company run by another large contributor.

Dincer and Johnston said that official legal corruption is moderately to very common in both the executive and legislative branches of government in a “significant” number of states, “including the usual suspects such as Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York,” but that “Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana are perceived to be the most corrupt states” in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Illegal Corruption

Only 13 states were found to have moderately common to very common illegal corruption in their executive branches. Louisiana was one of those 13.

Only four states had illegal judicial corruption deemed to be moderately common (Alabama and Louisiana) or very common (Arkansas and Kentucky). Dincer and Johnston wrote that even a finding of only slightly common in illegal judicial corruption “is still worrying since it is the judicial branch of the government that is expected to try government officials charged with corruption.”

“State legislators are perceived to be more corrupt than the members of the executive branches in a number of states,” the researchers said.

To illustrate that, the survey found just six states with legislative illegal corruption that was very common (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana) or extremely common (Oklahoma and Pennsylvania).

Legislators were found by LouisianaVoice to have leased luxury vehicles for family members, purchased season tickets to college and professional athletic sports teams, hired family members as campaign staff, paid personal income taxes and state ethics fines—all with campaign funds and all of which were illegal.

One legislator even profited by conveniently investing in Microsoft just as his committee was pushing through approval of one of the company’s software programs at the same time other states were taking similar action. The simultaneous approvals gave Microsoft stock a significant boost.

Legal Corruption

“Legal corruption is perceived to be more common than illegal corruption in all branches of government,” the report said, with Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin scoring highest in legal corruption “in all branches of government.”

Those same three states, along with Arkansas, topped the list in legal corruption in the judicial branch where legal sleaze “is perceived to be ‘very common,’” it said, noting that in all four states, judges are elected as opposed to states where judges are chosen on merit and in which judicial corruption is not as common.

“…We expect our courts to rise above the day-to-day pressures and expectations of politics,” the report said. “That they apparently do not raises serious questions about the ways judges are elected in many states, how their campaigns are financed, and whether conflicts of interest arise as those who contribute to judicial campaigns are allowed to appear before those same judges as cases are tried.”

Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin were joined by Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, and New York as states where legal executive corruption was found to be either “very common” or “extremely common.”

Legal legislative corruption was found to be “extremely common” in 12 states: Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas.

Aggregate Corruption

Across the board, in terms of legal and illegal corruption in all three branches of government, few states do it better than Louisiana, results of the survey reveal, with the state ranking in the upper tier of corruption in all six listings.

That finding prompted the authors of the report to say that corruption in state government “is not just a matter of contemporary personalities and events, but is rather a result of deeper and more lasting characteristics and influences.

Nowhere, it would seem, is that truer than in Louisiana. Following is just a partial list of Louisiana public officials who have come face-to-face with corruption charges of varying degrees:

 

Louisiana Executive Corruption

Sherman Bernard: The first Louisiana Insurance Commissioners to be convicted, he served 41 months for extortion and conspiracy.

Doug Green: The second State Insurance Commissioner to go to jail, he was convicted on three counts of money laundering, 27 counts of mail fraud, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jim Brown: The third consecutive Louisiana Insurance Commissioner served six months for lying to the FBI.

Richard Leche: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting kickbacks on the purchase of 233 state trucks.

Edwin Edwards: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison after his conviction of extortion in connection with the awarding of state riverboat casino licenses.

Charles Roemer: Commissioner of Administration under Gov. Edwin Edwards, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to violate federal racketeering laws, violating the statute and engaging in wire and mail fraud as a result of the FBI’s Brilab operation which also resulted in the conviction of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. Roemer served 15 months in federal prison.

Jack Gremillion: Louisiana Attorney General of whom it was once said by Gov. Earl K. Long, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book,” was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to a federal grand jury about his interest in a failed loan and thrift company.

Gil Dozier: Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner, initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for extortion and racketeering but had eight years added after presiding federal judge learned Dozier had attempted to tamper with a juror and to hire a hit man for an unidentified target.

George D’Artois: Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner was implicated in the 1976 murder of Shreveport advertising executive Jim Leslie but he died in surgery before he could be tried.

Cyrus “Bobby” Tardo: former Sheriff of Lafourche Parish sentenced to 29 years, five months after pleading guilty in 1989 to solicitation for murder, conspiracy, possessing an unregistered destructive device and using an explosive to damage a sheriff’s car. His victim? His successor and the man who defeated him for reelection as sheriff, Duffy Breaux.

Duffy Breaux: Lafourche Parish Sheriff sentenced to four years, nine months in prison for conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice in 1995.

Eugene Holland: The first of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to be convicted of a federal crime, sentenced to 16 months in prison for the theft of public funds to cover his utility bills and to pay for renovations to his house and barn. Pleaded guilty in 1996.

Chaney Philips: The second of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to serve prison time after his conviction on nine counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, engaging in illegal monetary transactions, theft involving a federally-funded program, money laundering, and perjury—all related to his time not as sheriff but as parish assessor before being elected sheriff. Sentenced to seven years.

Ronald “Gun” Ficklin: Third consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriff to be convicted of federal criminal charges. Sentenced to five years, three months for trafficking cars with altered vehicle identification numbers, altering VINs, mail fraud, helping convicted felon possess a fun. Pleaded guilty in 2007.

Jiff Hingle: Plaquemines Parish Sheriff pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and bribery, sentenced to 46 months in prison.

Bodie Little: Winn Parish Sheriff convicted in 2012 of drug trafficking, sentenced to 13 years, four months in prison.

Royce Toney: Ouachita Parish Sheriff, pleaded guilty in 2012 to hacking a deputy’s email and phone records and then trying to cover up his snooping. Sentenced to four years’ probation.

Walter Reed: St. Tammany Parish District Attorney (22nd JDC) sentenced to four years in prison in April 2017 for conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements on tax returns. Sentence on hold during appeals process.

Harry Morel, Jr.: St. Charles Parish District Attorney (29th JDC) pleaded guilty in April 2016 to obstruction of justice in FBI inquiry into whether he used his position to solicit sex from women seeking official help. Sentenced to three years in prison.

Aaron Broussard: Former Jefferson Parish President pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiring to accept bribes from a parish contractor. Sentenced to 46 months in prison. While parish officials other than district attorneys and sheriffs are not generally listed here, Broussard is because of his high national profile following Hurricane Katrina.

Ray Nagin: New Orleans Mayor convicted in 2014, sentenced to 10 years in prison for bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, tax evasion for illegal dealings with city vendors. As with the case of Broussard above, mayors not normally included in this list because of the sheer volume. But because of his high profile following Katrina and as mayor of state’s largest city, it was decided to include him.

 

Louisiana Legislative Corruption

Larry Bankston: Former chairman of the Senate Judiciary B. Committee that handled gambling legislation was convicted in 1997 on two counts of interstate communications in the aid of racketeering involving alleged bribes from a Slidell video poker truck stop owner. Sentenced to 41 months in prison. Re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar by State Supreme Court. Currently suing State Attorney General for the cancellation of his contract to represent a state agency.

Gaston Gerald: State Senator convicted in 1979 of extorting $25,000 from a contractor. Sentenced to five years in prison. Re-elected while in prison and put a prison acquaintance on Senate payroll as an aide before he was expelled from the Senate in 1981.

Sebastian “Buster” Guzzardo: State Representative among more than 20 persons, including the leader of the New Orleans Marcello crime family and three reputed New York mobsters, convicted in the Worldwide Gaming investigation. Conviction was for conducting an illegal gambling business and for aiding a mob-controlled video poker company. Sentenced in 1996 to three months in prison.

Girod Jackson, III: State Representative who pleaded guilty in 2013 to tax evasion and tax fraud in connection with his business dealings with the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority. Sentenced to three months in prison, nine months of home detention despite recommendations of 12 to 18 months imprisonment.

William Jefferson: 18-year veteran of U.S. House of Representatives convinced in 2009 on 11 of 16 felony counts for taking bribes in connection with a Nigeria business deal. Seven of the 11 counts on which he was convicted were overturned on appeal. Sentenced to five years, five months after appeals. In 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson interrupted rescue operations by using a Louisiana National Guard detachment to recover personal effects from his home. (His sister, Orleans Parish Assessor, also sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting to funneling $1 million in public funds to her family’s bogus charities.)

Charles Jones: State Senator from Monroe, convicted in 2010 of filing false tax returns and for tax evasion, sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution. Was re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar on Monday (Jan. 29, 2017).

Harry “Soup” Kember: State Representative was sentenced to five years in prison after his 1986 conviction of mail fraud for pocketing part of a $150,000 state grant he secured for a constituent’s company.

Derrick Shepherd: State Senator sentenced to three years in prison in 2010 after admitting that he laundered money for a corrupt bond broker, netting $65,000 for the scheme.

Rick Tonry: Served only four months as a U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District after pleading guilty in 1977 to receiving illegal campaign contributions, promising favors in return for contributions and for buying votes in the 1976 Democratic primary.

 

Louisiana Judicial Corruption

Ronald Bodenhimer: The 24th Judicial District Judge was among four judges to be caught up in the FBI Wrinkled Robe investigation of Jefferson Parish Courthouse corruption and one of two to receive jail time. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to planting drugs on a critic of his New Orleans East marina, for bond splitting, and for attempting to fix a child custody case on behalf of Popeyes Chicken Founder Al Copeland.

Wayne Cresap: The 34th JDC Judge for St. Bernard Parish was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to accepting more than $70,000 in bribes and for letting inmates out of jail without paying their bonds.

Alan Green: Another of the four Judges of the 24th JDC in Jefferson Parish. Sentenced to 51 months in prison after his 2005 conviction of a $10,000 mail fraud scheme to take bribes from a bail bonds company.

William Roe: The 25th JDC Judge for Plaquemines Parish was sentenced in 2010 to three months in prison for unauthorized use of movables for pocketing more than $6,000 in reimbursements for legal seminars that he attended as judge. The money should have been deposited in a public account instead.

Thomas Porteous, Jr.: Only the eighth federal judge to be removed from office by impeachment in the Republic’s history, he was convicted in 2010 by the U.S. Senate on four articles charging him with receiving cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors, and deliberately misled Senators during his confirmation hearings. As if to underscore the gravity of the charges, all 96 senators present voted guilty on the first article which addressed charges during his time as a state court judge and his failure to recuse himself from matters involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of granting favors for cash.

There are scores of other examples, including city and parish elected officials, local police chiefs, and even a legislator who resigned rather than be expelled for spousal abuse. And former Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain retired in 2016 under an ethics cloud even though he was official cleared of ethics charges. His son, Nate Cain and Nate’s former wife, Tonia, were indicted in August 2017 on 18 federal fraud charges over purchases he was said to have made with state credit cards during his tenure as warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport.

Additionally, LouisianaVoice over the past three years documented numerous instances of abuse of power and outright corruption from troop commanders all the way up to the upper command of Louisiana State Police.

There were dozens more not listed and sadly, there will continue to be corruption in all three branches of state government so long as the people of this state continue to look away and ignore the widespread malfeasance and outright skullduggery.

And by ignoring the problem, we are necessarily condoning it.

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When Judge Robert James moved to senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on May 31, 2016, State Judge Terry Doughty of the 5th Judicial District Court (Franklin, Richland and West Carroll parishes) made one call.

That call, to U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a fellow member of the First Baptist Church of Rayville, to express his interest in a federal judgeship, proved productive, but not right away. He was interviewed by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter but his nomination was not taken up by the Obama Administration.

But following the elections of Vitter’s successor John Neely Kennedy to the Senate and Donald Trump to the presidency, things changed. Follow up interviews took place, this time with Cassidy and Kennedy, and upon the recommendation of Cassidy and Abraham, Doughty was interviewed by the White House in April 2017 and officially nominated on Aug. 3.

If one follows the connections between Doughty, Abraham, and former 5th JDC Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens (since elected to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal) back far enough, some old familiar names start to pop up.

Names like former State Legislator (both the House and Senate) and now Legislative Director for Gov. John Bel Edwards NOBLE ELLINGTON, Bobby Jindal and Vantage Health Plan.

(Major League Baseball, which once held franchise rights on recycling coaches and managers, has nothing on Louisiana politicians. Edwards, when in the legislature, was a thorn in the side of Jindal but when he became governor, he couldn’t resist reappointing many of Jindal’s foot soldiers—people like like Jimmy LeBlanc, Burl Cain, Mike Edmonson, Butch Browning and Ellington.)

Now Ellington’s son, Noble Ellington, III, whose own home health care BUSINESS failed, now works as Director of Shared Savings for Vantage Healthcare in Monroe. Could politics have played a part in his hiring? We will probably never know, but the pieces were certainly in place.

AFFINITY HEALTHCARE, an affiliate of Vantage Health Plan, Inc. and which shares the same address at 130 DeSiard Street in Monroe, purchased the medical practice of Abraham’s MEDICAL CLINIC, formerly of 261 Hwy. 132 in Mangham (now the address of Affinity Health Group).

So, what’s the big deal about Vantage Healthcare?

Nothing much except back in October 2014, LouisianaVoice did a fairly comprehensive STORY about how the Jindal administration and Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) conspired to circumvent the state’s bid laws in order to allow Vantage to purchase a state office building in downtown Monroe on the cheap even though there was another serious buyer interested in the property.

That building, the old Virginia Hotel, constructed in 1935, is a six-story, 100,750-square-foot building that cost $1.6 million when built. It underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984 and was being used as a state office building when it was sold to Vantage for $881,000, a little more than half its cost when it was built more than eight decades ago. One might have expected the building, if properly maintained, to appreciate in value over the years, not depreciate by 45 percent.

The state could afford to unload the building because it owns another six-story office building containing nearly 250,000-square-feet of floor space a couple of blocks away, at 122 St. John Street in Monroe, but that seems little justification for selling the Virginia at fire sale prices.

But even with 109,000 square-feet of vacant office space available in the building on St. John, where do you think Judge Stephens and fellow Appeal Court Judge Milton Moore chose to locate their offices?

In the Vantage Healthcare building, of course.

NELASOB REPORT

LouisianaVoice has made public records requests to determine the cost to the state of housing the judges in the Vantage building instead of the state-owned building with all that available space but those records have not been forthcoming yet.

Regardless, someone in Baton Rouge needs to explain why the state is paying rent to a private entity for office space in a building which that entity received at bargain basement prices—from the state—as some sort of underhanded political favor—orchestrated by the Jindal administration’s circumvention of the state bid laws, aided and abetted by four North Louisiana legislators.

But the minor issue of where his office is housed doesn’t seem to be the type of thing that would bother Stephens anyway. After all, there is a photo, apparently posted on his Facebook page that shows him holding up the antlers of a deer he shot—at night? One person commented, “Illegal to hunt at night, ain’t it?” to which Stephens replied, “It’s illegal to get caught.”

And when he was running for the appellate court in 2016, there were more than 160 people who signed onto a newspaper ad endorsing his candidacy. Among them was one Donna Remides.

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

In December 2013, a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans said Ms. Remides was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment for lying in order to secure loans to hide more than $600,000 in thefts from the federally-funded non-profit Northeast Delta Resource Conservation and Development Council (NDRC&DC).

She was employed as a project coordinator by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to work for the council in Winnsboro. From January 2001 to December 2010, she used the NDRC&DC accounts to pay herself $640,000 without authorization. She wrote herself and her private business checks during the 10-year period and obtained loans in the name of the council to cover the thefts.

Granted, Stephens has no control over who purchases a newspaper advertisement to endorse his candidacy. But that, coupled with the controversy over his refusal to recuse his pal Doughty from a trial involving a LAWSUIT against a bank with some questionable links to Doughty, the flippant remark about illegal night hunting, the office space at Vantage, the same personalities tying both judges to Vantage, Abraham and Ellington…

But then again, maybe that’s what qualifies both judges for their positions in the political climate in which we currently find ourselves.

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