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Louisiana State Police (LSP) has suspended three State Troopers and shut down a cooperative program with 44 parishes from Webster to Jefferson, from Calcasieu to East Carroll following a months-long investigation by New Orleans television reporter Lee Zurik that revealed the troopers were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime they may not have actually worked.

The action to shut down Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE), a program in which state police are paid to conduct traffic patrol for local district attorneys, came after Zurik and New Orleans FOX 8 TV station surveillance found that troopers were in their homes much of the time for which they were being paid for doing patrol.

State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, immediately upon learning of the Zurik findings, ordered the SUSPENSION OF THE LACE PROGRAM and also ordered a criminal investigation into what could ultimately be determined as payroll fraud.

Under the program, local district attorneys contract with LSP for the patrols. The parish keeps all fines written by the troopers and reimburses LSP for troopers’ overtime salaries.

The three troopers who were suspended, all from Southeast Louisiana and New Orleans, combined to receive some $340,000 in LACE payments. The three troopers who were suspended, their salaries, their years of service, and their LACE payments over the past year, in parenthesis, include:

  • Master Trooper Daryl J. Thomas, a veteran of 22 years earning $89,300 ($150,000 in LACE payments);
  • Hazmat Specialist Eric Curlee, 19 years with LSP earning $99,800 ($100,000 LACE);
  • Byron G. Sims, polygraphist, 22 years with LSP, earning $109,000 ($90,000 LACE).

A fourth trooper under investigation is already out on sick leave and has not been suspended as yet. Because he has not yet been suspended, his name was not immediately available.

LouisianaVoice revealed in August that former Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) member Monica Manzella, as part of her duties as an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans, signed off on LACE contracts between the city and LSP but she signed the contracts before being appointed to LSPC and she had no additional oversight responsibilities.

A retired State Trooper said that abuse of the LACE program is not restricted to the New Orleans area and that “there are dozens of troopers out there who have been less than honest on their LACE timesheets. And it’s been going on for years,” he said.

A 29-page report by the State Office of Inspector General in 2010 would seem to back up that claim. The REPORT, dated April 27, 2010, examined overtime for employees of both LSP and the Department of Health and Hospitals. It said that as much as 30 percent of all LSP overtime in 2008 could be attributed to LACE. Even then, it was noted that one trooper earned more than $80,000 in overtime pay.

A story by LouisianaVoice on Dec. 15, 2015, revealed that Trooper JIMMY ROGERS (now retired) was disciplined by former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in 2010 to a 240-hour reduction in pay for 30 pay periods (60 weeks), representing a penalty of more than $4,800. But on Nov. 13, 2015, it was revealed by then-Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy that Rogers was allowed to make up for the suspension by working LACE patrol.

Dupuy said in his letter to then-Troop D Commander Capt. Chris Guillory that from Jan. 6, 2011, to Aug. 9, 2011, “Trooper Rogers worked 16 LACE overtime details in violation of (policy) in effect at that time.”

Guillory told Internal Affairs investigators he was unaware of the policy and that he failed to inform Rogers’s immediate supervisor that Rogers was serving a disciplinary action.

LSP Public Information Officer Doug Cain told LouisianaVoice that subsequent to Zurik’s revelation of his findings, State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves immediately ordered the criminal investigation and the statewide shutdown of LACE.

Cain said there are three steps to the investigation. First, there will be the criminal investigation, followed by an Internal Affairs investigation. Following the IA investigation’s report, an administrative investigation would be conducted and a decision made on disciplinary action against those involved. A decision will be made on reinstatement of the LACE program pending the outcome of the department’s evaluation of the program.

“We hope to re-start the program at some point,” he said.

Unfortunately, the latest revelations by Zurik are nothing new and that this type of payroll chicanery has been going on for years.

The story of payroll fraud by some LSP Troopers is old news. It has been reported time and time again but no action is taken until the press gets wind of it. Zurik is to be commended for his dedication by conducting a surveillance operation. LSP has yet to learn that Lee did exactly what LSP should have been doing all along.

Any Trooper that spends his time at home while he is supposed to be working can only accomplish that feat with the tacit or purposeful approval of supervision. LSP has yet to hold a single supervisor accountable for failure to supervise troopers who write their set number of tickets (quota) and go home.

Let’s look back at Troop D. There were two troopers who were allowed to resign amid similar accusations. Their supervisors faced zero punishment for the actions they allowed. The common denominator of the two troopers was shift Lieutenant Paul Brady of Beauregard Parish. He supervised both Jimmy Rogers and RONNIE PICOU.

Picou was initially terminated, later allowed to resign, after an investigation revealed massive absences from his shift to include 50 shifts with no work product. LSP failed to even address the partial absences from duty. Troopers anonymously reported Picou for his actions. The response was to give the investigation over to his friends, Capt. Chris Guillory and now retired Lt. Jim Jacobsen.

Guillory cleared Picou and doubled down by allowing him to continue with his practice of writing an assigned number of citations and taking the remainder of the shift off. Brady replaced Jacobsen as the supervisor for Picou upon Jacobsen’s retirement. Picou was finally terminated after public records requests by LouisianaVoice. LSP could have surveilled Picou just as Zurik did but chose to not to. The internal investigation files showed Picou was committing payroll fraud but he was never held accountable for his actions. Nor was Brady.

Jimmy Rogers resigned suddenly after allegations of payroll fraud involving LACE. A trooper who worked with Rogers informed LouisianaVoice that Rogers did exactly what the troopers who are now under investigation did. He wrote his assigned number of citations and took the rest of the shift off. Rogers allegedly took it a step further by writing LACE citations on regular state funded shift and claimed them as overtime. This is more egregious than what Zurik has discovered. Rogers was allowed to resign.

There were efforts to obtain the investigation files on Roger’s departure from LSP. LSP has enthusiastically kept them from public view. An audit of radio logs, LACE citations, and dash cam videos will confirm that Roger’s conduct was more egregious than what Lee Zurik has discovered. We think it is time that LSP held former Trooper Rogers accountable for his actions. The statute of limitations has yet to expire on felony crimes. Picou’s supervisor, Paul Brady was not punished, according to our public records requests.

When it comes to investigating payroll fraud, LSP appears to be incapable or unwilling—or at least so it seemed under Edmonson’s and Secretary of Public Safety and Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc’s leadership. The media seemed to figure it out. When a crime is committed, do an investigation. That investigation might include surveilling the target of the investigation. It seems that investigatory prowess is lost when investigating their own.

One thing seems certain: Reeves did not deserve the mess he inherited from Edmonson.

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A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge has scheduled arguments for Tuesday in the state’s appeal of a DECISION by a 19th Judicial District Court judge last March that knocked down much of the Jindal administration’s arbitrary rule changes in the approval of medical treatment for state employees injured on the job.

The decision was another in a long line of “reform” movements by Jindal—and pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—that were subsequently found to be unconstitutional or simply fell apart. Some of those included public education funding, group medical coverage for state employees, public-private partnerships in the operation of state hospitals, prison privatizations and tax proposals.

In his March 30 seven-page REASONS for JUDGMENT that followed a Feb. 7 bench trial, District Judge Don Johnson noted that:

Because the legislature did not authorize OWC to create a new rule creating a “tacit denial” when the provider simply ignores a request for treatment, “the Office of Workers Compensation exceeded its legislative authority as (it) lacks the authority to create and implement procedural regulations that authorize the ‘tacit denial of requested medical treatment which is statutorily obligated to the injured worker by the employer pursuant to (state statute).”

Johnson also found that OWC promulgated rules requiring injured workers to meet a higher burden than the state statute for any variance in an injured worker’s treatment schedule are “vague and the regulations are arbitrary, denying injured workers’ medical treatment that Louisiana employers are statutorily obligated to provide…”

Johnson also found that the “scheme” for determining whether an injured worker can receive medical treatment outside the Louisiana medical treatment guidelines (MTG) “is unduly burdensome.”

Special Assistant to the Director Carey Holliday testified that he was hired to help “bring the judges into conformity,” according to the answer to the state’s appeal filed by attorney J. Arthur Smith III on behalf of several plaintiffs. Holiday did that by implementing judicial performance evaluations. While he acknowledged he could not tell judges how to rule, he could “put them together and let them talk” and that “there will be some conformity…to come out of that,” Smith said in his answer.

The most damning revelation to come out of last February’s trial was testimony of improper Ex Parte communication between insurance carriers and defense attorneys about the merits of injury claims pending before OWC judges. Those communications were usually in the form of emails.

For example, one such email from a workers’ compensation defense attorney to former OWC Director Wes Hataway, Holliday, and the OWC chief judge contained complaints that one judge had ruled against an employer. The email went on to say of the judge, “He should be fired immediately,” and implied that the judge’s skills were less than those of a first-year law student. “He will do as he pleases no matter what,” the email said. “If this isn’t grounds to fire a judge, I don’t know what is.” The defense attorney ended his email by saying, “I think it’s time for the W.C. judges to become accountable for their actions.”

Judge Johnson took a dim view of this disregard for judicial independence by the 2011 decision to remove of the decision-making authority of the OWC judges and place it in the hands of the OWC Medical Director, Dr. Christopher Rich.

Johnson ruled that OWC “has violated the separation of powers doctrine by compromising judicial independence” by giving unpreceded powers to Dr. Rich, who was awarded a $500,000 contract to serve as medical director.

Rich, if nothing else, is consistent. Previously involved in ethical problems with another state contract, LouisianaVoice wrote about an apparent conflict of interest. In March 2011, the State Ethics Board ruled that he was prohibited, in his capacity as Medical director of OWC from participating in any matter involving Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital, a facility in which he owned an interest and which provided medical treatment to injured workers.

As OWC Medical Director, he could deny coverage to a state employee and then refer the employee to Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital for private treatment.

And did he ever deny coverage to state employees once ensconced as medical director. He even testified in February that he ignored the clinical judgment of treating physicians, even specialists, giving no weight to the recommendations of treating physicians. Moreover, according to his own testimony, he never examined an injured worker even though he made the final decision on what, if any, medical treatment the employee would receive. He even overruled a neurosurgeon’s recommendation that an employee undergo a cervical fusion because he, Rich, did not deem it necessary.

Attorney Janice Valois Barber testified in February that Rich had denied 100 percent of her clients’ requests for medical treatment variances. Dr. John Logan also testified by deposition that 100 percent of his variances likewise had been denied by Dr. Rich. Dr. Logan said that many of his patients simply gave up, knowing they would never get approval for the medical treatment they needed.

Dr. Pierce Nunley testified that he performs spinal surgery on almost a daily basis. He said he has attempted to contact Dr. Rich regarding Rich’s repeated refusals of request for treatments that vary from the MTG but was never able to get through to Rich nor did Rich return his calls.

So now, the state is continuing to pour good money after bad by appealing the decision of the lower court in an effort to uphold what was—and is—a very bad policy in dealing with people’s lives.

To us, it doesn’t seem quite right that one man, who never even once examined a patient would deny 100 percent of all requests for variances in the normal medical treatment guidelines. Surely there were a couple of valid claims in all of that.

But by consistently rejecting each and every claim, Dr. Rich was enforcing the Bobby Jindal code of justice and fair play.

It might be fine for Jindal to sell his books to his foundation in order to divert money from his non-profit into his pockets but no injured worker had a right to receive treatment for his injuries.

It might be fine for a legislator to lease luxury automobiles, pay ethics fines or even income taxes from campaign funds or for legislators to place relatives in state employment, but we just can’t have judges giving these deadbeat state employees a decent break.

And why not? The money-sucking appeals aren’t costing elected officials and bureaucrats anything. The tab is being picked by those clueless taxpayers. And besides, the state has plenty money.

The three-judge panel hearing the case includes appeal court judges John Michael Guidry, John T. Pettigrew and William J. Crain.

 

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To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, there Jerry Larpenter goes again.

Larpenter, the controversial sheriff and apparent strong man of Terrebonne Parish, seems to make decisions on the fly, a-la Donald Trump, about what is and what is not illegal in his parish, established laws be damned. And make no mistake, he is convinced it’s his parish.

Larpenter’s most recent dust-up is over the provision of security in the parish courthouse—which he refuses to do despite laws on the books that clearly say that is part of his job.

The result of his refusal is that the Houma Police Department is now performing security at the Terrebonne Parish governmental building and parish courthouse—all with the blessings of Parish President/Environmental Watchdog Gordon Dove GORDON DOVE.

Dove, while serving in the State Legislature as Chairman, of all things, of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, managed to get one of his companies, Vacco Marine, Inc., cited on several occasions by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), a feat almost impossible to accomplish in Louisiana. Another company, Dual Trucking, was cited by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield in neighboring North Dakota.

Rumor has it—and this is strictly the word on the street, which more often than not, has more than a grain of truth to it—that 32nd Judicial District Court Judge Randal Bethancourt wanted more security details assigned to the courthouse in beautiful downtown Houma.

This is the same Judge Bethancourt who, apparently without consulting a law book about probable cause or the First Amendment, signed off on a warrant that allowed the high sheriff to come calling on an Internet blogger sometime around dawn to seize computers, cellphones and other electronic equipment—for no other reason than he was pissed because the blogger said some uncomplimentary things about him and the political establishment of Terror-bonne Parish.

To read the LouisianaVoice story of the infamous Free Speech Raid, click HERE.

After a federal court ruled the raid and seizure of the electronic equipment unconstitutional, the blogger, Houma policeman Wayne Anderson and his wife filed suit against the sheriff who SETTLED out of court for an unknown but substantial sum.

Apparently, if the scuttlebutt is correct, Larpenter said no to the request for additional security and he and His Honor got into something akin to a minor verbal war that ended with Larpenter telling Bethancourt that it was the judge’s fault that he, Larpenter, had to lay out some major cash on the Andersons, forgetting, apparently, that it was he, not the good judge, who asked for the search warrant in the first place.

Larpenter must have also forgotten for the moment that he didn’t have to pay a dime of the judgement—or his attorney bills. Those were covered by his office’s liability insurance policy.

But hey, we already said Larpenter thinks and acts a lot like Trump so this is validation of that descriptive analysis.

And just as with the raid on the Andersons was unconstitutional, Larpenter’s refusal to provide courthouse security appears to be at loggerheads with what the law says his duties are.

State statutes leave little wiggle room when they say:

  • “Court criers are to be provided by the sheriff of each parish to each district judge.”
  • “The crier of a court (notice this is not restricted to Orleans) shall attend all sessions thereof, under the direction of the judge shall open and close court at each session, and maintain order and decorum in the court room, and shall perform such other duties as are assigned to him by law, the court, or the sheriff.” (emphasis added)
  • “Each sheriff or deputy shall attend every court that is held in his parish…”
  • “Security in the courthouse is the responsibility of governing authority (Gordon Dove), but an agreement may be made between the parish officers and the building to share the expenses.”
  • “The principal functions of the criminal sheriff are that of being keeper of parish jail and executive officer of the Criminal District Court.”

And then there is Opinion 12-0187 of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office dated Feb. 7, 2013 which says in part:

“…security provided in the courthouse is the responsibility of the parish governing authority under this statutory regime…” and that “…the governing body of the parish shall pay to the sheriff or his deputies attending upon the sessions of their respective courts of appeal and district courts…” Click HERE to read the full opinion:

Even the Texas Judicial Council addressed the issue in a 2016 REPORT on Court Security. Of course, policies in Texas and other states have no bearing on what Louisiana policy regarding courthouse/courtroom security. Still, it’s significant to note that the report says:

“The sheriff in each county is responsible for providing courthouse security.5 The municipal governing body is responsible for doing so in municipal court buildings. While the judiciary itself does not have responsibility or authority for providing court security, it is often in the position to advocate for appropriate security to ensure that individuals in the courts are not threatened as they seek access to justice. In addition, sheriffs and municipalities are not generally responsible for providing direct security to judges and court personnel when they are away from a courthouse, unless specific circumstances warrant such. Rather, it is judges and court personnel who are responsible for ensuring their own safety.”

All of which, of course, means exactly nothing to Larpenter. After all, he makes up his own laws and who are we—or judges, for that matter—to question that authority?

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The State of Louisiana shelled out almost a half-million dollars over a three-year period to a single law firm to defend two lawsuits against the former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC)—both of which went against the state.

Records obtained from the Division of Administration reveal that both lawsuits, defended by Renee Culotta of the New Orleans law firm of Frilot, LLC, were settled in favor of the plaintiffs. The most recent of the two, filed by one current ATC and two former agents, all African-Americans, was settled for $250,000.

Prior to that, the case of another former agent, Lisa Pike, was also settled but the terms of that settlement were held confidential by the court.

ATC, under the leadership of former director Troy Hebert, was riddled with controversy and in the end, possible criminal wrongdoing, according to no less authority than Hebert himself. Hebert, at one point in the proceedings of yet a third pending CIVIL ACTION against him, filed a MEMORANDUM in Support of his Motion for Protective Order.

In the LAWSUIT filed by Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry Hingle of Jefferson Parish, the case that was settled recently for $250,000, Frilot was paid $309,00 in attorney fees–$150,000 more than the final settlement.

Another $186,400 was spent by the State in defense of the Lisa Pike matter.

PAYMENTS TO FRILOT

And while the terms of that settlement are not known, it might seem prudent for the State to consider cutting its losses in all litigation pertaining to Hebert’s stormy tenure as Bobby Jindal’s boy at ATC.

For that matter, how far must a given case proceed for the defendant—in this case, the State—to realize it is defending the indefensible? At what point should the decision to walk away be made before wasting more taxpayer dollars?

Hebert’s deposition, taken in December 2016 in which he refused to answer questions on the grounds that it might leave him exposed to criminal prosecution should have been the signal to the State to throw in the towel and settle. What better justification could there be to settle? Why keep the meter running? That, nonetheless, is precisely what the State elected to do.

Throwing good money after bad has just always seemed like a bad proposition in any endeavor and these cases are no exception.

 

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Only in Louisiana.

A lawsuit filed in 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish challenging the legality of the proposed approval of $450 million in industrial tax exemptions raises two immediate questions:

  • What are Projects Magnolia, Zinnia, Bagel and Sunflower/Sunflower Seed?
  • Why is the Ascension Parish Council being so secretive about the true identities?
  • Why did the Ascension Parish Council’s Finance Committee not follow the law in considering the proposed tax exemptions?
  • Most important of all, what is the Ascension Parish Council trying to hide?

These are all questions to which plaintiffs Dr. Henrynne Louden, George Armstrong and Lana Williams are seeking answers in their petition filed last Friday.

On Sept. 12, the council’s Finance Committee, which in truth is comprised of all 11 council members, met and added to its agenda for the full council meeting of Sept. 21 Item 7, calling for the consideration of “resolutions to award industrial tax exemption at levels recommended by the Ascension Economic Development board for the following projects:

  • Project Magnolia;
  • Project Zinnia;
  • Project Bagel;
  • Project Sunflower/Sunflower Seed.

Altogether, the four projects would cost Ascension Parish $55.6 million—for a grand total of 32 new jobs, or $1.7 million per job.

To see the lawsuit in its entirety, click HERE.

Ascension_code_names.PNG

“The identity of the projects on the agenda for the meeting of the council held on September 21, 2017, are fictitious,” the lawsuit says, adding that neither the plaintiffs “nor any other member of the public could determine, from a review of the consent agenda:

  • The identity of the company (or companies) seeking the benefit of an industrial tax exemption;
  • The amount of the exemption sought for each project;
  • The cost of granting each of the exemptions;
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of the Louisiana State Constitution, or
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73.

“There are two things at issue in this suit,” said a spokesperson for an organization calling itself Together Louisiana: “Whether public subsidies can be approved by a public body without disclosing the identity of the entity receiving the subsidies, and whether reasonably specific public notices must be provided regarding approval of such subsidies.”

Article 7, Section 21(F) of the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 spells out the requirements for approval of the ad valorem tax exemptions for new manufacturing facilities.

“After being elected,” the lawsuit says, Gov. John Bel Edwards determined that the Board of Commerce and Industry “…had approved industrial tax exemptions contracts ultimately resulting in an average of $1.4 billion in foregone ad valorem tax revenue each year for the next five years for parishes, municipalities, school districts and other political subdivisions of the state that directly provide law enforcement, water and sewage, infrastructure, and educational opportunities to Louisiana citizens.”

On Oct. 21, 2016, Gov. Edwards issued Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73 entitled “Amended and Restated Conditions for Participation in the Industrial Tax Exemption.”

The executive order requires that the governor and Board of Commerce and Industry be provided with a resolution adopted by, among others, “the relevant governing parish council, signifying, “whether it is in favor of the project,” the lawsuit says.

The executive order further says that contracts for industrial tax exemptions which do not include a resolution by the relevant local governing authority “will not be approved by the governor.”

The agenda for the Sept. 12 Finance Committee meeting, the plaintiffs say in their petition, “failed to indicate that (it) would be considering whether or not to approve a resolution signifying that the council was in favor of one or more industrial tax exemption.” Despite failing to include the item on its agenda, the Finance Committee did, in fact, recommend approval by the council of such a resolution, placing the committee, the lawsuit says, in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

“Not only are meetings of the public bodies to be open,” the lawsuit says, (but) “citizens have the right to know—in advance—the subject matter upon which governing bodies will deliberate and vote.”

The state’s open meeting laws require posting written notices of the agenda of all meetings “no later than 24 hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the meeting” and “shall include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting.”

The committee’s violation of the open meeting laws, the plaintiff say, deprived the public of the right to:

  • Know what was being considered by the Finance Committee;
  • Directly participate in the deliberations of the Finance Committee;
  • Protect themselves from secret decisions made without any opportunity for public input.

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare actions of both the Finance Committee and the full council void as provided by law.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys, Brian Blackwell and Charles Patin of Baton Rouge are, in all probability, correct in their interpretation of the state’s open meeting laws (Article XIL, Section 3 of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution and Louisiana Revised Statute 42:19).

But this is Louisiana and it has been the experience of LouisianaVoice and other members of the media that the law is whatever some judge says it is. Judges apparently have wide discretion in concocting their own interpretations of the law to accommodate whomever the judges wish to accommodate—usually campaign donors.

The three plaintiffs in this case have the full moral support of LouisianaVoice but the reality is there is usually negligible correlation between law and justice once you walk through those courtroom doors.

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