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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

The news release by last September said that former Gov. Bobby Jindal had been appointed to the board of directors of by Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., of Tampa, Florida.

Yawn. Ho-hum. Has LouisianaVoice become so desperate for stories that it resurrects a nine-month-old news release?

Well, things have been a little slow of late. Even the recently-adjourned legislative session failed to generate any surprises other than the usual parties, dinners at Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants and hobnobbing with lobbyists to the general detriment of constituents, i.e. Louisiana citizens.

But it has long been my contention that when one peels back a few layers from the cover story, one will usually find the real story. After all, a July 2016 LouisianaVoice STORY turned up a link between Jindal and a lucrative state contract for another company that had appointed him to its board.

Accordingly, I went looking a little deeper and YOWSER! Sha-ZAM!

It seems that appointment of Jindal, described in the news release as one “who has dedicated his career to public service and advancing innovative healthcare polices,” appears to have been payback for services rendered while he was governor.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health show that CENTENE, a major U.S. health insurer, is the parent company of Louisiana Healthcare Connections, Inc., which was awarded a contract for nearly $1 billion with the Louisiana Department of Hospitals in September 2011, just a month before Jindal’s reelection to a second term.

LHCC Contract 2012

The contract called for Louisiana Healthcare Connections to perform “a broad range of services necessary for the delivery of health care services to Medicaid enrollees…”

That contract was to run from February 1, 2012, through January 31, 2015.

On January 19, 2015, the contract was renewed for another three years, to run through January 31, 2018. The contract amount was increased from the original $926 million to $1.9 billion.

LHCC Contract 2015

But just before Jindal left office, on December 1, 2015, that contract was amended from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, perhaps in anticipation that incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards would keep his promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—which he did.

In March of this year, USA Today published a STORY that Centene (Louisiana Healthcare Connections parent company, remember) would purchase WellCare Health Plans, Inc. for $17.3 billion.

It would be most interesting to see if Jindal netted a windfall from that transaction, coming as it did only six months after he was named to WellCare Health Plans’ board.

It’s unknown just how long negotiations had been ongoing between Centene and WellCare Health Plans, but the timing does open the door for speculation that the doubling of the Louisiana Healthcare Connections contract, Jindal’s appointment to the WellCare Health Plan board and Centene’s purchase of WellCare are more than coincidental.

To add a little spice to the recipe of Louisiana political gumbo, they’re also a few interesting campaign contributions.

  • On March 11, 2011, just six months before Louisiana Healthcare was awarded that initial contract for $926 million, WellCare of Louisiana, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s reelection campaign.
  • On January 17, 2012, only two weeks before its initial contract took effect, Louisiana Healthcare Connections gave Jindal $5,000.
  • Louisiana Healthcare’s parent company, Centene, gave Jindal $5,000 on January 17, 2012 (the same date as Louisiana Healthcare’s contribution). Centene gave him another $5,000 on November 19, 2012 and still another $5,000 back on August 14, 2008, eight months after Jindal first moved into the governor’s office.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans law firm of McGlinchey Stafford, the registered agent for Louisiana Healthcare, gave Jindal $1,000 on September 23, 2003; $5,000 on October 30, 2003; $5,000 on April 6, 2007, and $5,000 on March 2, 2011.
  • On April 23, 2009, Centene’s then Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff kicked in $3,000 to Jindal.

It would seem that Bobby Jindal is perfectly willing to skirt a few ethical standards in order to ensure that life after politics can continue to benefit from life while in politics.

So, you see, even the most mundane news release can carry a wealth of information if one is willing to follow a convoluted path to the ultimate source of the money.

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The breadth and depth of ruthlessness and greed apparently knows no bounds with the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry.

And it’s time, past time, that Gov. John Bel Edwards stepped in and brought an end to the destructive force that the board has become.

LouisianaVoice has documented numerous instances of abuses by the board:

EXAMPLE ONE

EXAMPLE TWO

EXAMPLE THREE

EXAMPLE FOUR

EXAMPLE FIVE

EXAMPLE SIX

EXAMPLE SEVEN

EXAMPLE EIGHT

EXAMPLE NINE

EXAMPLE TEN

EXAMPLE ELEVEN

EXAMPLE TWELVE

EXAMPLE THIRTEEN

EXAMPLE FOURTEEN

EXAMPLE FIFTEEN

EXAMPLE SIXTEEN

EXAMPLE SEVENTEEN

EXAMPLE EIGHTEEN

And these are just a few of the stories we and others have done about the gestapo-like tactics of this board established to protect consumers but which has become nothing other than a means for raising funds to support the salaries of board executives, staff, attorneys and investigators, not to mention rent in luxurious office spaces.

Because it receives no funding from the state General Fund, the board, like the State Board of Medical Examiners, relies on back-breaking fines that are completely out of proportion to the offenses for which doctors and dentists are fined by a board that acts simultaneously as accuser, investigator, prosecutor and judge.

In short, there can be no semblance of due process with kangaroo courts like these.

There have been efforts in the legislature to rein in the runaway boards, but those efforts have met with little success.

In the case of Dr. Ken Starling of Slidell (see Examples 3 and 18), the arrogance of the board and the ineptness of the Office of Inspector General have to be particularly galling.

Starling did everything the board asked of him, including entering and completing a rehab program at a costly facility in Rayville. But that apparently was not enough, for when Starling petitioned the board, sitting in god-like judgment of him, for reconsideration of adverse sanctions assessed against him, he only met with more maddening bureaucracy compounded by the ineptitude of the Office of Inspector General, which appears to have less justification for existence than just about any other state agency.

The PROCEDURES for reconsideration of an adverse disciplinary decision by the board says nothing at all about referring a dentist’s petition to the Office of Inspector General. Yet, that’s precisely what the board did, punting its responsibilities to another equally-bumbling agency.

LouisianaVoice has tracked some of the performance claims of the OIG and found that its claims of recovery of millions of dollars in restitution from felonious state employees were misleading because they basically piggy-backed federal prosecutors who actually led all the leg work.

As tor the OIG itself, it has provided little evidence of being an effective investigative or enforcement agency. In other words, taxpayer dollars wasted on useless inertia.

At any rate, the dentistry board, relying of all things, on the results of an OIG “investigation,” rejected Starling’s petition. Inspector Clouseau would have been a better choice.

The board, in a classic case of the blind leading the blind, noted that the OIG “reported to the Board that it found no irregularities or improper conduct associated with the investigation in 2009-2010 or the Consent Decree of March 5, 2010.”

Of course not. The OIG could not find its posterior with both hands, so it was a safe call by the dentistry board to refer the matter to OIG. You might say it was a classic Catch-22 that would do Joseph Heller proud while sealing Starling’s fate.

The board didn’t even extend the courtesy of sending a letter to Starling notifying him of its decision, relying instead on an email:

From: Rachel Daniel
Date: May 21, 2019 at 2:25:58 PM CDT
To: Kenneth Starling

Cc: Arthur Hickham <ahickham@lsbd.org>

Subject: Request for Reconsideration of Adverse Sanctions

Dear Dr. Starling:

Your petition for reconsideration of adverse sanctions was addressed by the members of the Disciplinary Oversight Committee and by the full board on March 15, 2019 in accordance with LAC 46:XXXIII.116.  While the committee found that your petition should be presented to the full board, the board voted unanimously to refer your case and your concerns to the Office of the State Inspector General of Louisiana (OIG).

After the OIG’s investigation, the OIG reported to the Board that it found no irregularities or improper conduct associated with the investigation in 2009-2010 or the Consent Decree of March 5, 2010.  Therefore, your petition of adverse sanctions was addressed again by the members of the Disciplinary Oversight Committee on May 7, 2019 in accordance with LAC 46:XXXIII.116.

Please be advised that the committee found that your request for reconsideration of adverse sanctions on May 7, 2019 lacked substantial merit and was denied.  Attached please find board rule .116 which outlines the time delay before which you can seek further relief.

Should you have any questions regarding this correspondence, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

 

Arthur F. Hickham, Jr.

Executive Director

Louisiana State Board of Dentistry

P.O. Box 5256

Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70821-5256

225.219.7334  Phone

225.219.0707  Fax

www.lsbd.org

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Remember THIS STORY as Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s office in 2008?

That was in 2008. Fast forward to May 16, 2019 and we have a thoroughly-researched and informative story by Baton Rouge Advocate reporter ANDREA GALLO in partnership with ProPublica, a leading investigative journalism website that details just how impotent, inept, and dysfunctional the Louisiana State Board of Ethics has become, thanks to Jindal’s “Gold Standard of Ethics,” passed in 2009, immediately after he assumed the office of governor.

In the 10 years since Jindal literally gutted the State Ethics Board of any enforcement powers, the board has become the antithesis of bodies like the State Board of Dentistry and the State Board of Medical Examiners which have the unbridled power to impose draconian penalties against dentists and doctors in order to support their exorbitant budgets.

Both extremes are classic examples of how political considerations trump due process and fairness in state government.

One bankrupts professionals who must accept coercion and extortion or face financial ruin while the other currently has more than $1 million in uncollected campaign violation fines dating back to (ahem) 2008, the year Jindal was elected.

Campaign finance report enforcement is all but non-existent, if the Louisiana Ethics Administration’s list of delinquent fines is any indication.

The administration’s WEBSITE lists 62 pages totaling about 700 uncollected fines dating back 11 years and totaling nearly $1.1 million, a testament to inefficiency and waste.

Moreover, the dental and medical boards, as well as other regulatory boards, have broad power to initiate their own investigations, something the ethics commission lacks. It can only investigate alleged ethics violations if it receives an official complaint.

But wait. Only elected or appointed officials may file a complaint; your average Louisiana citizen “has no standing” to file a complaint.

In other words, those not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official include:

  • A legislator who contracts with the state for hurricane debris removal (a real, not hypothetical case) is not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official.
  • A legislator uses campaign funds to pay his federal income taxes (again, an actual case), there is no ethics violation without an official complaint.
  • Another legislator using campaign funds to lease luxury vehicles for himself and members of his family and to purchase season tickets to Saints, Pelicans and LSU games.
  • Or a former governor publishing a book and then using funds from his tax-exempt foundation to purchase thousands of copies of the book at a nice profit to himself.

Convenient, no?

Jindal’s good-government charade began as soon as he took office and as a result, ethics board members resigned en masse in protest.

But could Jindal have harbored ulterior motives in pushing for his “reforms”?

On January 25, 2008, right after he took office, he was hit with his own $2,500 FINE for failure to timely disclose more than $100,000 spent on his behalf by the state Republican Party. A month later, he opened his first SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature dedicated solely to ethics reform.

At the same time, the Jindal reform package, when passed, allowed pending ethics fines against political allies, including then-state representative but current Grambling State University President RICK GALLOT, disappear.

The same couldn’t be said for two CALCASIEU PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS who led unsuccessful recall efforts against Jindal and then-House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. The teachers found themselves facing fines of $1,000 each for failing to file timely campaign finance reports. You can bet that little transgression wasn’t overlooked by Jindal and his “Gold Standard” of ethics.

But it’s impossible to place all the blame on Jindal.

In July 2007, more than a year before Jindal’s election, the ethics board allowed its chief administrator, Gray Sexton, resign and then rehired him in a different capacity—all to AVOID A REQUIREMENT under a new ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice, a move that on its face, might appear unethical to many.

But it didn’t end there. Sexton has since retired but now represents defendants before his former employer. Among his clients::

  • Lafayette developer Greg Gachassin;
  • Tammany Assistant District Attorney Harry Pastuszek, Jr.;
  • John the Baptist Parish Engineer C.J. Savoie and his company, C. J. Savoie Engineers;
  • Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph;
  • State Rep. Nancy Landry;
  • John the Baptist Parish President William Hubbard;
  • Former state senate candidate Shawn Barney;
  • Shreveport businessman Bobby Jelks;

And as far back as 1986, a full 17 years before Jindal’s first campaign for governor, it was common for the ethics board to be used selectively to punish politicians or public servants who had fallen from favor.

That was the year that former LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead and Baton Rouge Advocate publisher Doug Manship were FOUND GUILTY by the ethics board in connection with a flight by Brodhead and his wife to Manship’s private club in LaPaz, Mexico, on Manship’s private plane.

Then-LSU President James Wharton used the ethics charges as leverage to oust Brodhead even though Wharton was aware of the trip and even encouraged the Brodheads to take the trip, according to Brodhead’s account in his book Sacked!

Strangely enough, no ethics violations investigations were ever initiated against Wharton and LSU Alumni Association President Charlie Roberts for accepting dove hunting trips from LSU Board of Supervisors member Sam Friedman, nor were ethics violation charges ever pursued against Friedman who owned a Holiday Inn hotel outside Gainesville, Florida, the hotel at which the LSU football team was quartered when it played in Gainesville.

Nor did the ethics board pursue charges against legislators who routinely accepted dove-hunting trips from lobbyists, choosing instead to “take no action.” In fact, a story in The Advocate said, “The Board’s staff attorney refused to say who the lawmakers were, when or why they took the trip.”

The time has long since past when the legislature reinstated the enforcement powers of the ethics board.

The alternative would be to admit the futility of any pretense at enforcement, or even the existence of, governmental ethics and simply shut down the agency as excess baggage.

We would probably never notice the difference.

 

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As Vice President Pence QUIETLY CATNAPPED through the State of the Union Address on Feb. 5, Donald Trump declared, “We will never be a socialist country.”

Fast forward to May 13 (that’s the day before yesterday and barely three months after that SOTU declaration.

Trump ramps up his trade war with China, imposing new tariffs on Chinese imports that he claims will bring money into the U.S. treasury when, in fact, the proposed tariffs only mean that U.S. consumers will be paying more for goods from China.

You see, that’s the way tariffs work. It’s the buyer (American citizens) who will be paying the tariffs, not China. Trump doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that.

China retaliated by announced its own new tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods, including $19.6 billion in agricultural exports to China in 2017, more than 14 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports.

No problem, Trump says. He’ll just push through a new RELIEF PACKAGE for farmers to the tune of about $15 billion.

That’s in addition to the $12 billion in farm aid Trump provided last year following China’s retaliatory tariffs.

And speaking of China, China was America’s biggest creditor for 2017, holding some $1.15 TRILLION in U.S, debt, down slightly from $1.3 TRILLION in 2013.

So, the U.S. will now borrow even more money from China to pay our own soybean farmers not to sell soybeans to China? Is that about it?

But wait! Let’s go back to that SOTU declaration. Wouldn’t ensuring farmers won’t go under in the wake of failure of capitalism (brought on, of course, by Trump’s trade war) be pretty much the very definition of socialism?

Of course, Republicans have repudiated socialism by voting repeatedly over the past two decades to increase their salaries while voting against raising the minimum wage 14 times. (In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that congressional pay raises are automatic unless members vote specifically to refuse increases—not that they’re prone to do that with any regularity.)

Senate Republicans have already expressed their trepidation over the tariffs and the trade war but if they had the courage of their convictions, all they need do is pass a bill to halt Trump’s petulant trade war. And with the Democrats who would join them in a bipartisan effort, they’d certainly have enough votes to override a veto.

But they don’t and they won’t.

Where, for example is Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina? According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, long-time ally of the Republican Party, South Carolina will be the THIRD-HARDEST HIT state by the trade war with nearly 600,000 jobs and $30 billion in goods tied directly to trade.

Yet Graham is strangely silent on all matters related to the tariffs but has advised Trump staffers to ignore Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas.

And then there’s Louisiana, the fifth most adversely-impacted state, with 16.5 percent of its exports headed for China.

So, where are John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy? For that matter, where are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay “The Cajun Mouth” Higgins, Mike Johnson, Garret Graves and (especially) gubernatorial candidate Ralph Abraham, who just happens to represent the very part of Louisiana hardest-hit by agricultural export tariffs?

Speaking of Abraham, Lamar White, publisher of BAYOU BRIEF, had a revealing story last week about how farmer-doctor-congressman Abraham and his family have raked in $2.6 million in government farm subsidies from 1995 to 2017. Farmer-doctor-Congressman Abraham personally received $68,000, and the Ralph and Diane Farm Partnership (that’s farmer-doctor-congressman Ralph Abraham and his wife) received an additional $514,000. His son-in-law, Dustin Morris, raked in a little more than $975,000 while his wife Ashley Abraham Morris, farmer-doctor-congressman Abraham’s daughter, pulled in an additional $592,000 over the same period.

And oh, farmer-doctor-congressman Abraham also just happens to be a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Here’s a RUNDOWN of members of congress who received at least $100,000 in farm subsidies:

Senate or House Agriculture Committee members:

  • Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa: $322,000;
  • Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzier of Missouri: $972,000;
  • Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California: $1.8 million (33 percent of $5.3 million paid to family);
  • Republican Rep. Frank Lucas of Ohio: $105,000;

Non-committee members:

  • Republican former Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee: $3.7 million;
  • Republican Rep. Deb Fischer of Nebraska: $381,000
  • Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri: $143,000;
  • Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California (one of Trump’s most vocal cheerleaders): $244,000 (25 percent of Sunset View Farms which received $748,000);
  • Republican former Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana: $220,000;
  • Democrat Sen. Jon Tester of Montana: $330,000;
  • Democrat former Rep. Gwen Graham of Florida: $238,000;
  • Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas: $160,000;

With 11 of 13—counting Abraham—being Republican, perhaps the Grand Old Party isn’t as militantly anti-socialist as it purports to be—unless, of course, it can blame socialism for programs to aid the poor. That’s a different matter altogether.

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Southern University has been hit with more than $14,000 in fines and fees as a result of an illegal executive session of the university’s system-wide grievance committee on March 18 involving four professors who were appealing the decision by Southern Executive Vice President/Vice Chancellor James Ammons to either fired, demote or reduce the pay of the four.

Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Richard “Chip” Moore awarded $5,000 to the four professors and to yours truly. In addition, he ordered Southern to pay $8,400 in attorney fees to Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III, and to pay $638 in court costs.

RULING ON SOUTHERN CLOSED MEETING

At the same time he ruled that any and all actions by the committee affecting the four professors from March 18 through the date of the ruling (May 13) were null and void, “said evidence being the unlawful fruit collected by the committee in contravention of the Open Meeting Law…”

The decision followed the May 6 trial in which the four professors—Elaine Lawnau, Christy Moland, Terrilynn Gillis and Marilyn Seibert—and Aswell said they were forced to exit an illegally-held closed-door meeting of the grievance committee on March 18.

In his ruling, Judge Moore said that prior to the committee’s convening in the committee room on the Southern campus, committee chairperson Marla Dickerson “met privately with all committee members to discuss whether the hearing should be open or closed to the public. Dickerson testified that the committee members unanimously and clandestinely agreed that the hearing be closed to the public (emphasis mine).

“Thereafter, Dickerson and the other committee members assembled in a boardroom and called the hearing to order with all plaintiffs being present. Dickerson then asked plaintiffs whether they desired the hearing be open or closed, and all plaintiffs moved that it be open to the public. Dickerson then posed the same question to Southern University, which advised through its counsel (Winston Decuir, Jr.) that the hearing be closed. Dickerson then authoritatively ordered the committee hearing be closed to the public, said action being taken without prior motion or vote from any committee member while the committee was in open session.”

The state’s open meeting law specifically says that (a) all votes to enter into executive session must be by a two-third majority vote and that the vote must be taken in open session and recorded in the minutes of the meeting, and (b) employee(s) filing the grievance or appeal have the final say as to whether the meeting is to be conducted in open or closed session.

The committee failed to meet either criteria.

Decuir, who appeared smug and self-assured at the outset of the trial, argued that because Southern’s handbook gives the committee the final say on executive sessions, the university was not required to comply with state law when in reality, the reverse order is true: state law trumps the school’s handbook, not the other way around.

But that did not stop Decuir from arguing that the committee “had no legal responsibility to comply with laws relative to public hearings,” Judge Moore noted.

Moreover, apparently disregarding the First Amendment, Decuir challenged my right to be a plaintiff in the matter, arguing that I had no standing even though I was there to cover the proceedings for LouisianaVoice. Under cross examination, he even asked me—as if the question had any relevance whatsoever—if I had ever covered a meeting at Southern before. Again, Mr. Decuir—I direct you to the First Amendment.

Judge Moore, who first was required to rule that Southern was a public body in order for the trial on the merits to proceed, noted that the recommendation to be made by the committee to Southern’s president/chancellor “was far too important to be made in a dark room, where no one other than committee members knew what facts and evidence it had considered…”

He said Dickerson’s own testimony “clearly established that prohibitory law was contravened when Dickerson improperly ordered the hearing go into executive session, closing the meeting to plaintiffs and the public.”

Moore also noted, “Generally, a party seeking the issuance of a preliminary injunction must show that he will suffer irreparable injury, loss, or damage if the injunction does not issue and must show entitlement to the relief sought. However, a showing of irreparable injury is not necessary when the act sought to be enjoined is unlawful, or a deprivation of a constitutional right is involved.”

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