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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

You have to wonder what the Louisiana Ethics Board is trying to conceal.

Back in March, the neutered ethics board sued the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in an effort to prevent state auditors from peeking at information in its case files that the auditors say is necessary to conduct a proper performance review of the board.

Well, there may be a plausible explanation but on the surface of it all, the ethics board’s action screams of some kind of cover-up. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but then when you examine some of the board’s actions, that too, is understandable.

You may remember one of the first actions taken by Bobby Jindal soon after taking office back in 2008 was to gut the board in what he deemed at the time reform that produced the “gold standard” of ethics.

What it did, instead, was make then-pending ethics investigations of a couple of legislators go away. One of those legislators is now a college president. Go figure.

When Jindal announced his “reforms,” there were 11 members of the ethics board. Soon after that, there were two. Nine of the 11 members, including the board chairman, vice-chairman and board administrator promptly RESIGNED in protest—or disgust, take your pick.

In its lawsuit, filed in state court in Baton Rouge, the board contends that information contained in the files is confidential and privileged. State Auditor Daryl Purpera countered that his office has not only the right but the obligation to see the information—and to keep it confidential.

It’s most likely that auditors are not interested in any particular case, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider some of the board’s fancy footwork in dodging any responsibility in holding public officials’ feet to the proverbial fire.

Take State Police, for example. Back in April 2018, the board CLEARED —in secret, at that—four State Troopers accused of taking a taxpayer-funded vacation in a state vehicle that took them to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas en route to a convention in San Diego.

The troopers, the board determined, did not take the detour to the tourist spots on their own volition, but upon the instructions of higher-ups in the department. There was only one “higher-up” who could give those instructions and that was then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who ultimately resigned under pressure in the wake of that trip.

But then, 16 months later, in August 2019, the board then managed to twist logic beyond recognition when it also CLEARED Edmonson of wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Gray Sexton. Sexton formerly served as (ahem) head of the State Ethics Commission but apparently had no problem representing clients before the board.

Sexton said he had received a letter from the board that cleared Edmonson but he refused to make a copy of the letter available, claiming that it was “confidential.”

That seems to be the way the Ethics Board operates these days: confidentially, in secret, behind closed doors, out of sight from, and with no accountability to the public.

Auditors are seeking full access to board records from 2013-2018, specifically inclusive of investigative case files, files for cases with waivers/suspensions, and ethics board executive meeting minutes.

The board provided some of the records but has withheld the investigative case files and executive board meeting minutes, justifying the refusal by claiming state law “provides that documents obtained or prepared in connection with an investigation are not only confidential but also privileged.”

The board’s refusal and lawsuit appear to be part of a trend of state boards, commissions and agencies trying to prevent auditors from delving into their operations.

In recent years, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Louisiana Pharmacy Board, and the Department of Economic Development have taken legal action to protect their records from the prying eyes of auditors. Purpera’s office won against the Medical Examiners and Pharmacy boards but lost a court decision against LED.

Purpera said the effort to obtain records for auditing purpoises is an ongoing battle. “We’ve been fighting for records for the last 25 years,” he said.

 

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Floyd Hamilton III has been waging a lonely battle with the Veterans Administration for 14 years and today, May 20, is the 11th anniversary of  his father’s death in the Alexandria Veterans Hospital on May 20, 2009. It was the day after his 84th birthday.

His battle is with the doctor who was supposed to be caring for Floyd Hamilton, Jr. but who failed to do her job, according to Hamilton III.

And with the bureaucracy.

The most frustrating part is the three-page LETTER from Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland back in October 2016 in which Holland declined to pursue the matter because, according to his investigation, Dr. Shivani Negi committed no wrongdoing in her care for Hamilton’s father.

Curiously, while the VA Hospital is in Rapides Parish, Holland’s letter was on Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier’s letterhead. Holland is employed as an assistant DA by a number of district attorneys, including, apparently, Rapides Parish. Still, it raises questions about who paid Holland to conduct his investigation—Rapides or Calcasieu.

Regardless, Holland said here was “no information that any document was filed in Louisiana which contained any false statements” and that “no false documents were presented to the State of Virginia’s Board of Medicine,” where Negi’s license was issued.

Former Louisiana congressman Charles Boustany, himself a physician, had filed a complaint about “unethical conduct” by several individuals, including Dr. Negi, who he said misrepresented herself when applying for her license in Virginia when she checked the box “NO” to the question if she had ever been denied a license.

In a well-rehearsed shuffle that only a trained bureaucrat can pull off, the Virginia licensing board said that yes, Negi was denied a license by the State of Florida but that she had been given 14 days in which to withdraw her application—which she subsequently did.

Ergo, the lie never occurred, according to the State of Virginia.

LouisianaVoice, way back in July 2016, ran the STORY of Negi’s falsifying her Virginia application as well as records of complaints from her work in the state of Maryland.

But why did the State of Florida deny her application? Well, it seems that when she applied for her license in that state, she failed to disclose an incident in which she altered an admission order sheet after the fact. The Maryland investigation had concluded that Dr. Negi “inappropriately altered the medical records after the fact by adding her order for blood sutures to the chart order shed sometime after December 6, 2000, 2:30 a.m., and by trying to make it appear as though it was written by December 5, 2000, 10:00 p.m.

“Furthermore, the committee is dismayed by Dr. Negi’s inability or unwillingness to admit to this inappropriate alteration of the medical records. The committee unanimously agreed that this inappropriate alteration of the medical records and the physician’s implausible response to our questioning, reflect not only bad judgment but also unethical behavior,” the report said.

So now, we have two occasions in which Dr. Negi lied on official forms and yet she continues to treat patients at the VA Hospital in Alexandria.

Hamilton said he believes Dr. Negi withholds critical medical care from patients she believes are ready to die. He said, “She told me he was 84 years old and had a good life, and why do I want him coded. Dr. Negi not only put in orders to take him off of the breathing machine she also took him off of antibiotics and had him taken off of ICU.”

Hamilton says Dr. Negi took those actions against the wishes of the family.

LouisianaVoice also published a story in June 2016 which detailed complaints about Dr. Negi from family members of patients as well as from medical staff who provided written statements or testified in depositions as to Negi’s inappropriate remarks in the presence of family members and patients. [To see that story, click HERE.]

One cannot assign a specific case such as that of Floyd Hamilton’s to the Trump administration, especially since the problems began long before Trump took office.

On the other hand, Trump promised to fix veterans’ problems when he got elected, he vowed that he would instruct his staff “that if a valid complaint is not addressed, that the issue be brought directly to me. I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to.”

Trump loves to fire people, and if Dr. Negi presents a problem for veterans and their families, we have a situation made to order for him.

Instead, he has broken his promise by PURGING 200,000 VA healthcare applications.

And Floyd Hamilton, III continues his lonely battle with the bureaucracy.

 

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Once upon a time, there were 10 ventilators in a building on East Airport Drive in Baton Rouge that could have been used to treat COVID-19 patients.

Once upon a time, that 22,000-square-foot-building on East Airport Drive also contained four operating rooms, two recovery rooms, a CT scanner, an MRI scanner, oxygen, a lab and sterilization facilities.

No more. Not since 2016 when state authorities raided the offices of Dr. Arnold Feldman at the behest of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners which decided it would come down hard on Dr. Feldman for offenses that have never been fully explained.

They pulled his license as his punishment. But then, the board has since offered to reinstate him—provided he pays nearly half-a-million dollars in extortion fees.

Why would I call it extortion? Consider this: His fine was $5,000 but the “cost” of the proceeding [court costs, if you will] was a cool $456,980.60. Anyone from the board care to explain that in a way that makes sense?

Didn’t think so.

Could it have been coincidental that Dr. Feldman was considered to be competition for Dr. J. Michael Burdine, who was founder of and a PARTNER in The Spine Diagnostic Promotional Clinic on Flanders Drive?

Could it also have been mere coincidence that Burdine was serving as president of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners at the time Feldman was shut down?

An added note of interest is that Burdine is an officer in the LOUISIANA SOCIETY OF INTERVENTIONAL PAIN. A fellow officer in the organization is lobbyist Alton Ashy.

Ashy is a power player of some renown around the Louisiana State Capitol. Among his long list clients is the Spine Diagnostic Center of Baton Rouge.

So Burdine, in his capacity as president of the State Board of Medical Examiners, took out one of the main competitors of his Spine Diagnostic Center which is represented before the legislature and the governor by lobbyist Alton Ashy who sits on the board of the Louisiana Society of Interventional Pain with Burdine.

You’d be surprised what small circles some people move in in Baton Rouge. Tight little circles like that are difficult to penetrate and like tightly-formed hurricanes, pack considerable clout.

Meanwhile, 10 ventilators and an assortment of other critical medical equipment are no longer available. They were sold by Dr. Feldman, who now resides in a motor home in Florida when he could be in Baton Rouge treating coronavirus patients.

Only in Louisiana…

 

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There is a man in Congress who can make Donald Trump appear to be the adult in the room.

There is a man in Congress who can make fellow Rep. Devin Nunes appear to be the voice of reason and restraint.

There is a man in Congress who can make fellow Rep. Lindsey Graham look like a paragon of consistency.

There is a man in Congress who can make fellow Rep. Jim Jordan appear to be a calming influence.

There is a man in Congress who can make just about anyone else seem like a tower of intellect.

That man is none other than Louisiana’s 3rd District U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, aka the lawman who told Michael Cohen he’d arrested “thousands of people.” (His former boss, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz, says the number is closer to six. Maybe.)

Clay Higgins is the former used car salesman who once got CANNED by the Opelousas Police Department—or rather resigned in lieu of firing—for roughing up a citizen and then lying about it.

Clay Higgins is the same guy who then was fired by the St. Landry Sheriff’s Department for trying to commercialize his position as a public information officer with videos, T-shirts, a radio production, and, of all things, photo sessions like he was some kind of slick magazine centerfold model.

Clay Higgins is the same guy who then landed a position in the office of Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope who would soon have his own legal problems.

Clay Higgins is the same guy who fell behind on his child support payments by about $100,000 but assured his ex-wife during his campaign for Congress that once elected, he would have access to all sorts of money.

Clay Higgins is the same one who called for the ERADICATION of all who might have any sympathy for Islamics.

Clay Higgins is the same one who, while tailgating with Trump on a trip to Germany, made a political video at AUSCHWITZ in violation of all manner of protocol and decorum.

Clay Higgins is the same one who ATTENDED A PAIR OF CONFERENCES, one hosted by a hate group and another by climate science deniers.

And while Trump takes his cue from Fox News, Higgins apparently takes his from Louisiana’s version of Rush Limbaugh, MOON GRIFFON.

Apparently taking Griffon’s advice to heart, the Cajun Barney Fife lit into Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday over the governor’s proclamation prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people—including church congregations.

Higgins, who likely hasn’t seen the inside of a church since the last funeral he attended, took particular umbrage at Gov. Edwards’s imposition of size restrictions on groups, saying in a LETTER to the governor, “…the decision to gather should be the choice of the individual or institution and not a mandate by any government entity. The State has no authority to enforce the proclamation nor any ban on worship.”

For whatever reason, Higgins has not deemed to hold Trump to those same standards even though Trump is calling for restricting gatherings to a much smaller number: 10.

Higgins also ignored is own BLOG POST in which he said, among other things, “All Americans, regardless of ideology, must be united in our effort to combat the coronavirus. We must prioritize the health and safety of American families.”

We couldn’t agree more. But sometimes being “united” means making sacrifices. This is one of those times. There is no question that things are going to get tight and people are going to suffer financially. But people are going to feel the economic effects regardless of whether or not John Bel Edwards imposes restrictions on the size of gatherings.

The proclamation makes more sense than that Florida preacher who urged his congregation to keep coming to services, saying, “If we die, we die for Jesus.” That, folks, is the epitome of selfishness; the preacher didn’t want to lose out on any “love offerings.” What an idiot.

In a nearly incoherent VIDEO, a grubby-looking Higgins, looking more like a homeless man than a member of Congress, ranted and rambled like a New Orleans wino about Edwards’s proclamation. While he called the governor’s action “stupid,” it was Higgins who came across as the poster child for stupid. Stand up comic Ron “Tater Salad” White must’ve had Higgins in mind when he said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

New Orleans Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace, apparently in a more charitable mood, refrained from accurately describing Higgins’s idiotic demagoguery for what it was: boorish grandstanding. She let him off the hook by saying he was “just out of line.”

I would add a couple of questions for Higgins:

  • What would you propose as an alternative?
  • Instead of slurring and mumbling some incoherent insult at the governor, why don’t you try and be a part of the solution to a very difficult situation?
  • Is this how the voters of the 3rd District elected you to represent them? Seriously?

A friend, appropriately offended by Higgins’s verbal mooning of the governor [who, by the way has displayed infinitely more leadership characteristics during the coronavirus epidemic than one Donald Trump], said simply, “If this guy gets re-elected, his constituents are as crazy as he is.”

 

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That investigation into the death of Kimberly Gail Womack 11 years ago has gone from an accidental fall to an unsolved homicide that, because it has morphed into a “pending investigation,” any records pertaining to the investigation, the coroner’s report, the certificate of death, or the autopsy report are off-limits for public release.

So says Ali Zito Meronek, assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District.

LouisianaVoice, pursuant to it story of Feb. 19, made the following public records request of DA Ricky Ward, Jr.:

“The complete file on the investigation of the death of Kimberly Gail Womack (August 1, 2008), DOB: 08/0611959, including, but not limited to:

  • The Certificate of Death;
  • The Autopsy Report;
  • A copy of the Coroner’s Permission to Cremate;
  • A copy of the statute governing the cremation of bodies while a homicide investigation is ongoing;
  • The names of all detectives and/or officers actively involved in the investigation.

If any or all of the requested information is not subject to disclosure, please inform me in writing (as per Louisiana’s Public Records Statute) as to the reason for your denial. Also, please provide an update as to the status of this investigation as of Feb. 19, 2020.”

You can read that story by clicking HERE.

On Feb. 27, we received the following response from Meronek:

“As there was no arrest made in conjunction with this investigation, the District Attorney’s office does not have a file in its possession. Furthermore, if we did have an open file in conjunction with this investigation it is our opinion that none of the record is subject to the public records request, as this is an unsolved case that is still under investigation.

“Additionally, it is our position that there is no exception to this rule that records of pending investigations are exempt from public records requests found in LSA R.S. 44:3 which would apply to you or to the office/ entity requesting these records. Furthermore, as there has been no arrest in conjunction with this investigation of any person to date, there is no portion of the file which is public such as would be the case where there had been the arrest of a person (i.e. initial report, excluding narratives, booking information or bills of information or indictment). The case is classified as pending investigation.”

So, what First Assistant DA Tony Clayton blew off by telling Womack’s daughter Kathryn Simpson of Shreveport that she would “never know” the full story of her mother’s death is now a “pending investigation” of more than 11 years with no arrest or resolution in sight.

This case, folks, is beginning to look more and more like one of those cases authorities hope will just fade away so as to protect a married sheriff’s deputy who was having an affair with Womack. Suddenly, the person who might be considered a person of interest is the one being protected as a potential victim while a murdered woman is hopefully quietly forgotten?

Is this how justice is defined in Louisiana? Sadly, it may well be.

With Womack having suffered a side subdural hematoma from a blunt force trauma to the head as well as multiple fractured ribs and “multiple bruises and abrasions on the upper and lower extremities as well as the midfrontal region of the face,” according to the six-page autopsy report, it would seem that the deputy might have at least been questioned as to his whereabouts at the time of Womack’s death.

That’s not to say he would have been tagged as a suspect or even a person of interest. But that would have generated an investigative file, which the DA conveniently does not have.

It would be of some comfort to Simpson to at least know the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office performed a cursory investigation of the scene. Simpson, for example, was initially told there no were fingernail clippings and scrapings taken from her mother’s body—only to learn later that there were. So, what became of those clippings? Were they tested for DNA? Were any neighbors questioned? Did investigators check for area surveillance cameras?

Instead, all we get from the 18th JDC DA’s office is a terse letter informing us that it has no investigative file—and, apparently, no communications from the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Ms. Simpson would like answers and we believe she’s entitled to receive some.

Eleven years is a long time to wait for the phone to ring.

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