Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

There’s a wide-open sheriff’s race in Iberia now that three-term incumbent Louis Ackal has decided to hang up his gun and badge.

Ackal probably waited at least four years too long to walk away from a controversy-plagued tenure of his own making pockmarked as it was with dog attacks on defenseless inmates, beatings and even deaths that resulted in millions of dollars of damages from lawsuit judgments and settlements—along with a half-dozen federal criminal convictions of deputies.

Four years ago, Ackal was forced into a runoff and had to resort to soliciting the endorsement of the third-place finisher in exchange for a job in order to win that election in what should have been declared a clear ETHICS VIOLATION had there been an ethics commission with any ethics of its own.

On October 12, Iberia Parish voters will be tasked with picking a successor from among six candidates—two Republicans, a Democrat and three with no party affiliation. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Roberta Boudreaux (No Party), who lost that runoff election four years after third-place finisher endorsed Ackal and was rewarded with the newly-created position of director of community relations—not that such a position wasn’t sorely needed by Ackal.
  • Joe LeBlanc (No Party).
  • Fernest “Pacman” Martin (Democrat).
  • Murphy Meyers (Republican), a retired state trooper.
  • Tommy Romero (Republican), another former state trooper now retired from the Louisiana Attorney General’s office.
  • Clinton “Bubba” Sweeny (No Party).

For the moment, Murphy Meyers would appear to be the main story in this election.

That’s because while Meyers wants to be sheriff of Iberia Parish, there is a serious question about whether or not he actually resides in the parish, a qualification most folks would seem to desire of their sheriff.

Meyers has been the sole 100 percent owner of a residence located at 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville, since 1991.

But back on July 12, 2016, Meyers did in fact register to vote in Iberia parish, using the address 210 L Dubois Road, New Iberia.

But on March 7, 2018, Meyers’ then-employer, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, Office of Louisiana State Police, filed an updated “Request for Personal Assignment and/or Home Storage of State-Owned Vehicle.” The vehicle was a 2008 Dodge Charger assigned to Meyers as his personal take-home unit. The form was for the requested approval period of July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. He signed the form stating all information in it was accurate and correct. The listed address of the employee’s resident was 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville.

The very next day, March 8, 2018, Meyers renewed his driver’s license using 2101 Dubois Road, New Iberia, as his correct physical address. (Note: A driver may be cited and fined if the address on his or her driver’s license does not correspond with the driver’s actual address of residence.)

A year later, on March 25, 2019, Malinda Meyers, wife of Murphy Meyers, contributed two in-kind donations to her husband’s campaign fund, according to state campaign finance records submitted September 10, 2019. Malinda Meyers gave her address as 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville.

On August 9, 2019, Murphy Meyers officially qualified to run for Iberia Parish Sheriff in a sworn statement that he met all requirements set forth by Louisiana law, including residence requirements. On that form, he gave his place of residence as 210 L Dubois Road, New Iberia, further affirming that he not only currently resides at that address but has for at least the last year, as per state qualifications.

So, just who does own that property at 210 L Dubois Road in New Iberia that keeps popping up on forms filled out by Meyers?

That would be the home that belonged his mother-in-law, Malindayes Mattox Burks.  Courthouse records in New Iberia list her as 100 percent owner of a home valued at $71,400 and assessed at $7,140. Malinda Meyers inherited the home but she and Murphy Meyers still reside in St. Martinville at 1000 Hugh Drive.

Or do they?

This would seem to be a job for the State Ethics Commission to straighten out provided, of course, it had any ethics of its own.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The wheels of justice are prone to turn slowly. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the courts can pretty much verify that. Even routine litigation can take up to a decade—or longer—for resolution.

So, when The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal denied a motion by Mangham contractor Jeff Mercer to recuse Chief Judge Henry Brown at 10:23 a.m. on August 3, 2017, it was more than a little surprising when Judge Pro Tempore Joe Bleich of Ruston was able to whip out a three-page supporting opinion—drafted, neatly typed and filed by the clerk—two minutes later, at 10:25 a.m.

In fact, Mercer’s attorney, David P. Doughty of Rayville, is of the opinion that it’s simply impossible and that “[t]he logical explanation is that this supporting opinion was drafted prior to the hearing ever occurring,” which might indicate to those familiar with the machinations of the courts to conclude that someone within the 2nd Circuit was not quite playing by the rules.

By examining the timeline included in the link at the bottom of this story, one can see in the sixth and seventh entries that the order to deny the motion was issued at 10:23 a.m. on August 3 and Bleich’s supporting opinion filed by the clerk at 10:25 a.m. that same day.

One can also see how the principals involved probably thought Mercer would never be privy to the internal records of the court which revealed the expeditious manner in which Bleich’s supporting opinion was generated.

But they obviously underestimated the Mangham contractor who has already been forced out of business by DOTD and the 2nd Circuit and by this time, had nothing to lose by pursuing a string of public records requests which led to revelations of skullduggery on the part of Brown and his law clerk, Trina Chu.

Both Brown and Chu would be gone in little more than a year.

A little background may be in order for Bleich. His BIOGRAPHY, as provided by the Louisiana Supreme Court, notes that he was assigned in January 2016 by order of the supreme court as judge pro tempore of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal to fill a vacancy created by a retirement. He was scheduled to serve from January 14 through April 30, 2016 or until the vacancy is filled, which occurred first. But in August 2017, of course, he was still serving.

Bleich received his undergraduate degree from Louisiana Tech University and his law degree from LSU Law School and served as a district court judge for the Third Judicial District Court (Lincoln and Union parishes) from 1982 to 1996 when he was elected Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court to fill an unexpired term. He “retired” later that same year when he lost his bid for election to a full term and has practiced law in Ruston and served as a pro tempore judge in various district courts.

Bleich wrote a flowery three-page supporting opinion complete with legal “research,” peppering it with effusive praise for Judge Brown, finding “not a scintilla of bias by Judge Brown.”

Most observers would agree that that’s a lot of legal research and writing to cram into two minutes.

The only problem with that, besides, of course, the dubious speed with Bleich supposedly penned his gushing respect and admiration for Brown in his supporting opinion, was that it might have been a bit premature.

Little more than a year later, Brown would be gone from the bench, forced to resign after being SUSPENDED for his alleged behavior toward colleagues who were considering an appeal involving a close female friend of Brown’s.

He received an order from the Supreme Court to vacate the appeal court building in downtown Shreveport and to not take any judicial actions after complaints were filed that he had created a hostile environment toward colleagues who were hearing the appeal of a civil lawsuit against his friend who had been found liable for more than a million dollars in her own case which was also on appeal before the 2nd Circuit.

But the story, particularly as it relates to Mercer, goes much deeper and involves several officials in the 2nd Circuit and the possible illegal access of court files, including those in the Mercer case.

Mercer was a contractor on highway construction projects in Ouachita, Morehouse, Bossier, LaSalle and Caddo parishes—projects totaling nearly $9 million. He filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) in which he claimed DOTD inspectors attempted to shake him down for kickbacks and equipment or risk not having his work pass inspection.

When his payment for his work was subsequently withheld, he sued and a 12-person jury in 4th Judicial District Court in Monroe unanimously AWARDED him $20 million on December 4, 2015. The official judgment was rendered on February 10, 2016.

DOTD appealed the decision to the 2nd Circuit and Chief Judge Henry Brown, along with Judges Jeff Cox and Jeanette Garrett composed the three-judge panel which heard oral arguments. Brown sat on the panel despite the fact that his father had worked for 44 years as a civil engineer for DOTD, a fact he neglected to disclose.

Brown even wrote the opinion of the 2nd Circuit panel which reversed the unanimous state district court verdict. That decision was filed on June 7, 2017. It was only after that decision that Mercer subsequently learned of Judge Brown’s failure to disclose his father’s employment with DOTD. He filed an Application for Rehearing and a Motion to Recuse and Vacate the Panel’s opinion.

It was that motion to recuse on which the August 3 order was issued at 10:23 a.m., followed by Bleich’s opinion of more than three pages was researched, drafted, typed and filed by the clerk within the next two minutes.

A year later, on August 22, 2018, Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Detective Doug Smith was told by 2nd Circuit Judicial Administrator Lillian Richie that she and other court employees had become aware that Trina Chu, Judge Brown’s clerk, “may have intentionally exceeded her authorization” while handling court documents on the court’s computer network.

Smith subsequently wrote a six-page report that reads more like a Trumpian chapter from the ongoing Ukraine investigation than routine court business with reports of unauthorized photocopies, access to restricted computer files, copying of confidential files onto a USB drive, and a string of emails that indicated ex parte communications (communications with respect to or in the interests of one side only or of an interested outside party to the exclusion of attorneys for the opposing parties) with Judge Brown’s friend Hahn Williams, the subject of the appeals case that ultimately got Brown removed from the bench.

One of those emails instructed Williams on how to transmit a document to her attorney so that it could not be traced back to her: “you can send the document to him (attorney) as is because it has no information that can be traced back to me on the document. Save it to a jump drive and give it to him so he won’t have to type much.”

Nor were the ex parte communications limited to Chu, Mercer claims, but also included Judge Brown receiving an email and documentation regarding his friend’s case. “The documents emailed to Judge Henry Brown were the confidential Second Circuit documents related to the Succession of Houston case…and actually sent to his Second Circuit email address,” Mercer says in his latest Petition to Annul (the 2nd Circuit Court) Judgment.

According to the 2nd Circuit panel’s decision, all three judges conducted a de novo review of the Mercer case on appeal. De novo appeal is an appeal in which the appellate court uses the trial court’s record but reviews evidence and law without yielding to the lower court’s ruling—as if the trial was being heard anew.

In Mercer’s case, there were nine volumes of exhibits comprising nearly 8,700 pages of required reading by each judge in a de novo review of the record.

“[t]he 2nd Circuit sign sheet for the record and exhibits, however, reveals that the panel, in making the de novo review, must have relied solely on Judge Brown’s review of the record,” Mercer claims in his petition to annul. “Judge Cox never checked out either the original or duplicate record or exhibits, and after the April 4, 2017, oral arguments, Judge Garrett never checked out the duplicate record. Therefore, it was impossible for the entire panel to have made a de novo review of all the trial testimony and exhibits that were seen and heard by the (district court) jury for almost a month,” Mercer says.

“Thus, the Second Circuit’s own records show that a full de novo review of the trial records/exhibits by all three (3) judges never occurred after the case was submitted after the April 4, 2017 oral arguments (emphasis Mercer’s). In essence, one judge (Brown) substituted his opinion for twelve unanimous jurors. Judge Brown wrote a fifty (50) page opinion for the panel, thirty-eight (38) pages of which was discussion of an alleged de novo review fact finding by the entire panel, which never occurred after the case had been submitted.”

The petition says that because of the ill practices of the court, “the June 7, 2017 decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal should be declared null and void, and the original unanimous jury verdict and judgment of February 10, 2016, should be reinstated and the Second Circuit [Court] of Appeal should be recused from any further hearing of this case.”

Mercer has also subpoenaed Lillian Ritchie for her deposition as well as digital copies of all documents obtained through forensic imaging that were copied from Chu’s computer as they relate to his case and all email messages of Jennifer Brown, Judge Brown’s former permanent supervising law clerk (and now general counsel for the 2nd Circuit) from August 26, 2016 through August 30, 2017.

If nothing else, Mercer has peeled back the layers of secrecy, for lack of a better description, that shroud the court’s procedures from the general public—procedures that citizens have the right to know about when they have business before the court.

We live in what is generally considered an open society and as such, we should know what our elected officials—including judges—do and how they do it. Secrecy should have no place here.

Mercer may have opened a tiny portal to how the system works and how more transparency should be the order of the day.

The fair administration of justice demands it.

To review the entire Mercer petition and the eye-opening exhibits, go HERE.

 

Read Full Post »

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: here they go again.

The expenditure of public funds, under the law, is supposed to be just that: public.

But trying to pry an accounting of legal costs associated with the state’s defense of 4th Judicial District law clerk Allyson Campbell has proved to be somewhat problematic, to say the least, for a north Louisiana publication.

The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe is the only newspaper willing to take on the powers that be and so far, it has encountered a huge stone wall.

[The unwillingness of the Monroe News-Star to involve itself in the fight for the public’s right to know may be attributed to two factors: (1) it’s a Gannett publication which in and of itself, lends itself to mediocrity, and (2) Campbell once worked part time as something of a gossip columnist for the paper. Of course, it didn’t hurt that her father was an executive with Regions Bank and is married to the daughter of influential attorney Billy Boles, or that Campbell is the sister of Catherine Creed of the prominent Monroe law firm of Creed and Creed. Got all that? If not, here’s a LINK to one of our earlier stories about Campbell.]

But back to the latest developments in this ongoing saga. The Citizen made a by-the-books public records REQUEST of the Division of Administration (DOA) in which it sought an accounting of legal costs in defending Campbell in a lawsuit brought against her by Stanley Palowsky, III, for damages incurred when she “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly handled” his petition for damages against a former business partner.

It seems that some 52 writ applications went missing for more than a year only to be found in Campbell’s office where, incredibly and inexplicably, she was using them as an end table in her office.

So, how DOA respond to the Citizen’s request? Basically, it said attorney’s bills for legal services were exempt from production under an exception pertaining to pending claims.

That’s debatable. Yes, in ongoing litigation, communications between attorney and client are definitely privileged. But a simple accounting of expenditures for legal representation has nothing to legal strategy or negotiations. It’s an expenditure, pure and simple, and should be available as a public record.

The Citizen, in its story, pointed out that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed’s husband and law partner, contributed $5,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s campaign in November 2015.

But more significantly, LouisianaVoice combed through campaign reports and found that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed, and the Creed Law Firm were quite active in their support of other candidates.

Gov. John Bel Edwards was the beneficiary of $25,000 in contributions from both Catherine and Christian Creed over the three-year period of 2015-2107, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne received $2,000 in contributions from Christian Creed in 2013 and 2014.

Attorney Scott Sternberg of New Orleans is representing the Citizen and by letter dated August 27, gave DOA until today (August 30) to comply with the request.

Read Full Post »

In Chapter 26 of my book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption,

Louisiana's Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption

I described how St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain circumvented state ethics laws by setting the son and daughter of two of his deputies up as straw owners of a private entity formed to run the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department’s prisoner work release program under a no-bid contract.

Unfortunately, when I wrote the Strain chapter, I didn’t have all the sordid details that went along with the agreement, which included kickbacks to Strain and hundreds of thousands of dollars that went to his two deputies, David Hanson and Clifford “Skip” Keen.

On Thursday (August 29) those details were made public in the form of a federal INDICTMENT of Strain—details that revealed how the scheme worked, how kickbacks were paid to Strain and how federal funds were used to pay American Express Gold Card charges for expensive family vacations to Hawaii, the Bahamas, Destin, Florida, a hunting trip to Illinois, a $2,000 down payment on a Dodge Durango truck, $2,770 for a jewelry purchase from Boudreaux’s Fine Jewelers, other personal purchases and a $2.500 contribution to Strain’s re-election campaign.

The single-count indictment, in 22 pages, laid out the method by which Strain, Hanson and Keen set up two separate prisoner work release programs and awarded a no-bid contract to St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, LLC, to operate the programs.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, said that Hanson supervised the sheriff’s department’s Canine Division and Keen was over the Maintenance Department.

Strain, the indictment said, wanted to transfer operations of the work release programs to a private entity run by Hanson and Keen but for them to do so would have necessitated their resignations from the sheriff’s office, thus forfeiting medical and retirement benefits.

As a solution, Hanson’s daughter, Brandy Hanson, and Keen’s son, Jarret Cole Keen were set up as operators of St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, with each holding 45 percent ownership. To sidestep state ethics laws, which were already virtually meaningless, Allen Tingle was given 10 percent ownership and was paid $30,000 per year to run the work release program.

Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen received more than 100 payments each totaling nearly $1.2 million between them from 2013 and 2017. The kickbacks to Strain, David Hanson and Skip Keen, the charges claim, were accomplished by arranging for Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen to serve as “straw owners” of St. Tammany Workforce Solutions.

David Hanson and Skip Keen entered guilty pleas last February to funneling kickbacks to Strains from profits they received through the work release program.

Tingle is never identified in the indictment and is referred to only as “Person 2.” But the indictment named Person 2 as the registered agent for St. Tammany Workforce Solutions and the Secretary of State’s corporate RECORDS show the registered agent as Allen Tingle.

Thursday’s indictment said that Tingle was required to make payments to Brandy Hanson and Jarrett Keen.

Among the expenditures paid on Hanson’s American Express Cold Card were payments of $4,041; $4,770; $2,205, and $4,660.

Payments were also made to American Express in the amounts of:

  • $4,000 for Hanson’s Hawaiian vacation;
  • $4,000 for Hanson’s trip to the Bahamas;
  • $2,770 to pay for jewelry from Boudreaux’s Fine Jewelers;
  • $2,000 for a down payment on a new Dodge Durango;
  • $4,360 for another vacation in the Bahamas;
  • A check for $16,000 made payable to Big River Outfitters for a hunting lease in Illinois to be used by Keen and Hanson;
  • A debit card charge of $2,241 to Destin West for a Keen family vacation, and
  • A check for $2,500 drawn on the Skip Keen account and made payable to the Jack Strain Campaign.

Last month, Strain, who was defeated for re-election in 2015, was indicted by a St. Tammany Parish grand jury on two counts each of aggravated rape and aggravated incest and single counts of sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Two of his alleged victims were under the age of 12 and the alleged incidents date back as far as 1975, to when Strain himself was as young as 12, according to 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery. One of his victims claimed he was only six when Strain anally raped him.

At least four persons came forward to claim they were molested by Strain, one of whom said he was raped as late as June 2004. Strain, 56, was first elected sheriff in 1995, serving until his defeat by current Sheriff Randy Smith.

Strain was arrested at his home by state police and booked into his former jail where he was held in lieu of posting $400,000 bail. He faced the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. Just another ho-hum day in Louisiana politics.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Kira Orange Jones prevailed in the challenge to her candidacy for re-election to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the state’s 2nd District in a special court hearing in New Orleans on Tuesday, lending further validation to the theory that in Louisiana politics, anything goes.

That anything includes:

Jones listing at least three separate residents on various reporting forms submitted to the state;

Her failure to file Louisiana state income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2017 (a prerequisite to seeking political office in Louisiana, but…);

Her serving as executive director for Teach for America (TFA), which contracts with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), a clear conflict of interests and a not-so-trivial ethics question;

Her chronic absence from BESE meetings—she missed more than one-third of all meetings last year;

Here several years’ delinquency in filing required annual financial disclosure forms with the state—another requirement of candidates and even in-the-trenches civil service employees;

Her serving as a board member for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP) which is listed by LDOE as a vendor for professional development for 2018-19—another potential ethics problem and conflict of interest.

But what I found most humorous was the suggestion by educator and blogger Mercedes Schneider: “Given that Orange-Jones’ uninterrupted residence in BESE District 2 is in serious question (Her husband was at one time during her tenure New Mexico’s top education official), it seems in (opposition candidates) (Shawon) Bernard’s and (Ashonta) Wyatt’s best interest to file a claim against Orange-Jones with the Louisiana Ethics Board.”

So, why would I find that so amusing? Simple. Not to make light of Schneider’s well-intentioned suggestion, but the Ethics Board is Louisiana’s single biggest political JOKE going and has been since Bobby Jindal’s ethics “reform” of 2008.

Eight years ago, special interests hijacked BESE from Louisiana’s citizens by buying the offices of the likes of Orange-Jones, Jay Guillot, Holly Boffy, and others so that people like John White could ram through education “reform” designed to benefit corporate ownership of virtual on-line schools and charter schools.

Boffy, who is seeking re-election to her District 7 seat, is manager of an outfit called EdTalents in Lafayette, which, according to its web page, works to support schools or districts “in creating an educator talent system to attract, hire, place, develop, leverage, and retain teachers for student success.” Go HERE for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate report on EdTalents.

She also is an Educator in Residence for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for the central and southeastern states. CCSSO was instrumental in writing COMMON CORE standards for the state.

In other words, like Guillot when he served on the board, Boffy contracts for services with school districts that are governed and regulated by the board on which she sits.

No conflict or ethics problem there.

But let’s look at some of the results under the tenure of Orange-Jones, Boffy and White:

  • Today, every single charter school in New Orleans is FAILING;
  • Louisiana, after a decade of White’s leadership, remains the fourth-worst EDUCATED state in the nation;
  • While the state’s teachers were going without pay raises, 20 unclassified employees at LDOE raked in average PAY RAISES of nearly $27,000 each over a five-year period—that’s more than $5,000 per year, compared to the meager $1,000 raise teachers got this year—finally.
  • LDOE attempted to gloss over a major ERROR in the Minimum Foundation Program for fiscal year 2018-19 which created an actual $17 million surplus for LDOE, but instead of distributing the money to the schools as it should have done, LDOE made no mention of the error for fear of an audit. Instead, the money was expected to be used for one-time expenses for the department.

And did a single legislator raise the first question about the mistake?

Nah. It’s all good. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: