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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

There was an interesting contrast between Donald Trump’s visits to Monroe on Nov. 4 and Bossier City 10 days later.

In Monroe, Trump endorsed challenger Robert Mills in a state senate race 100 miles to the west, as reported by, among others, THE HAYRIDE, one of the state’s principal cheerleaders for Eddie Rispone and Trump. (That was the same rally, by the way, in which Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin violated state law that prohibits the secretary of state from participating in any partisan campaign other than for his own election by ENDORSING Rispone for governor.)

Mills is seeking to unseat incumbent Ryan Gatti in Senate District 36, which encompasses all of Webster Parish and parts of Bienville, Bossier and Claiborne parishes. Both men are Republicans but Gatti has offended the Republican hierarchy with his non-partisan voting record in the House and by supporting some of the programs of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.

Around the same time that Trump was endorsing Mills in that Monroe appearance, Monroe radio personality Moon Griffon got Gatti squarely in his crosshairs, posting on FACEBOOK a copy of an invitation issued by Gatti for a luncheon hosted at his home at which Edwards would be the “special guest.”

Griffon, falling in line with Trump, Rispone, and The Hayride, obediently LAMBASTED Gatti on his radio show (to listen, go to the 10-minute mark of the link).

So far, so good. Everyone is in lockstep. Trump, Rispone, Griffon, The Hayride, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, LABI (Mills actually sat on the board of NORTH-PAC, one of LABI’s four directional political action committees).

Until last night, that is. When Trump appeared in Bossier Thursday night, he was smack dab in the middle of District 36 and in the perfect position to again throw his support behind Mills.

In fact, The Hayride on Monday of this week said, “It’ll get even worse when Trump repeats the (Monroe) performance in Bossier City Thursday, at which (time) the president will repeat his endorsement of Mills over Gatti inside of District 36 itself.”

Except he didn’t.

Conspicuously absent in Trump’s Bossier City rally last night was any mention of Mills.

None. Zip. Nada.

Could Ashley Madison have played a role in Trump’s decision not to call for the election of Mills?

LouisianaVoice on Oct. 31 had a STORY that Mills’s name had appeared on the Ashley Madison web page, the online dating service designed specifically for married people seeking a discreet extra-marital affair.

Oops.

So much for the presidential endorsement on the candidate’s home turf.

The absurdity of it all has prompted one lifelong Republican to observe, “This is the craziest election I’ve ever seen. Mike Johnson is behind all of it. (He’s a) fake Christian conservative hatchet man. I just voted for my first Democrat ever.”

 

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It’s been a long time since an election in Louisiana has featured the level of accusations and misleading ads.

Like four years.

It was in 2015 when then State Rep. John Bel Edwards rolled out his “Prostitutes over Patriots” ad to taint U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the latter’s attempt to succeed the controversial Bobby Jindal to the state’s governor’s mansion next to Capitol Lake.

That ad was a reminder of Vitter’s embarrassing scandal over his skipping a vote to honor 28 soldiers killed in action in favor of taking a call from a PROSTITUTES.

That ad eclipsed Vitter’s attempt to smear Edwards for his visit to a black nightclub that featured semi-nude dancers.

In an ugly sidebar, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, a Republican who succeeded the colorful—and controversial—Harry Lee, got involved in the race, first by endorsing Edwards and then by collaring an apparent campaign mole attempting to record a session of Edwards supporters at a coffee claque.

Ugly indeed. Worthy of Earl Long.

Fast forward to 2019 and little has changed.

Both candidates, incumbent Gov. Edwards, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Eddie Rispone have unloaded a spate of attack ads against each other that have Louisiana voters suffering severe cases of campaign fatigue. If possible, the barrage is worse even than the avalanche of lawyer ads that seem to obscure local newscasts.

Edwards convinced black leaders in New Orleans to remove an ad comparing Rispone to David Duke, prompting Rispone to accuse Edwards of playing the race card, accusing Edwards’ family of racism because his ancestors were slave owners.

Ugly.

Even Donald Trump has inserted himself into the governor’s race, appearing at rallies over the state and charging that Edwards is pro-abortion and anti-2nd Amendment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Edwards broke with his own party to support and sign into law one of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the nation—the constitutionality of which will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. And Edwards, himself a hunter, is a strong advocate of the 2nd Amendment.

Rispone has fashioned himself as a “jobs creator,” but Edwards ads point out that he has a record of outsourcing jobs to foreign workers who subsequently sued him over benefits. And as for the jobs Rispone says he “created,” Edwards has noted that Rispone’s company has received millions of dollars in tax exemptions for businesses that created precious few jobs.

Rispone has an ad attacking Edwards as being “too liberal for Louisiana” that inserts Edwards responding to the hypothetical “how liberal is John Bel Edwards,” saying “That’s a stupid question.”

Problem is, the Edwards comment is taken out of context. The remark was in response to Rispone’s debate question about New Orleans being a sanctuary city—which, in fact, was an uninformed question, much like Rispone’s claim that the State Constitution contained 400 pages just on the state tax code.

Ugly.

The Edwards campaign features an ad that shows Rispone introducing then-Gov. Bobby Jindal at some function (we don’t know what, but it does appear authentic). His introduction is interspersed with negative news headlines about major budget cuts and budgetary shortfalls that occurred during Jindal’s eight years. Rispone can be heard congratulating Jindal on “a great job.”

The end concludes with a warning that we can’t go back to the Jindal years.

Recently, Secretary of State KYLE ARDOIN apparently violated a state prohibition against him (or any secretary of state) from participating in any partisan election other than his own—because as secretary of state, he is in charge of impartially overseeing all elections in the state—when he appeared in a Trump rally in Monroe and endorsed Rispone.

Ugly.

A Rispone ad inaccurately accused one of Edwards’ supporters, a West Point roommate, of landing a STATE CONTRACT worth up to $65 million. The facts revealed that while Murray Starkel did bid on the coastal restoration contract, neither his firm nor any of the other three bidders received the contract. The ad was subsequently pulled.

A Rispone ad attacking Edwards’ MILITARY RECORD was particularly ugly, especially in light of the fact that Rispone’s primary benefactor, Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, DROPPED OUT of West Point.

And while Rispone appears satisfied to attack Edwards vis TV ads, he seems reluctant to face Edwards face to face, one on one, other than the formal debates to which he committed earlier. But he was a NO SHOW at a Baton Rouge Area Chamber forum as well as a Baton Rouge Press Club debate, prompting one observer to speculate that he didn’t get Grigsby’s permission to attend.

And while Rispone offers no hard solutions to any of the state’s problems other than to say he is a “jobs creator,” Edwards can—and does—boast that he took over a state wallowing in eight consecutive years of budgetary deficits of the Jindal administration to produce a $300 million budget surplus.

Rispone’s most effective ad features his daughter Dena extolling his family values, his faith and the fact that he is not only a wonderful father, but a “good man.” It’s easily the least offensive ad that either candidate has rolled out, even more effective than the image of Edwards driving down the road in his pickup truck with his arm draped around his wife’s shoulder. That ad may have been genuine, but I couldn’t help but feel it appeared contrived, posed. Rispone’s daughter, by contrast, was about as sincere as any ad in the entire festering campaign and, looking directly into the camera, she comes across as a truly loving daughter. Nothing about it seems rehearsed.

Rispone, however, all but negates that ad with another in which he opens by saying Louisiana is the best state in the nation but immediately clicks off a multitude of poor rankings that causes one to question his claim of our being the “best” state.

There can be no denying there are lingering problems that are so entrenched from decades of back room politics that put lawmakers’ personal gain of the state’s best interests.

In 2018, Louisiana had an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, fourth-highest in the nation, and a poverty rate of 18.6 percent, the nation’s third-highest.

There are those who are not as enamored as Rispone’s daughter. And the skeptics include at least two elected Republicans.

One, a state senator, cautioned, “If you think Jindal was bad, just wait until you see what happens if Rispone is elected.”

Another, a parish official, said Rispone would bring back former commissioners of administration Kristi Nichols and Angelle Davis from “political oblivion” to work in his administration.

Those two, and others Republicans with similar opinions, will be targeted by the State Republican Party as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

Regardless, the citizens of Louisiana will breathe a sigh of relief when this circus is over.

Political campaigns in Louisiana can wear even the most resilient observer down to his or her last nerve.

Ugly.

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Google the definition of jury tampering and you get several hits, all of which say the same thing. I have chosen to include the following definition from the web page of USLegal:

  • A person commits the crime of jury tampering if, with intent to influence a juror’s vote, opinion, decision or other action in the case, he attempts directly or indirectly to communicate with a juror other than as part of the proceedings in the trial of the case. Jury tampering may be committed by conducting conversations about the case outside the court, offering bribes, making threats or asking acquaintances to communicate with a juror. (emphasis mine)
  • A juror includes any person who is a member of any jury, including a grand jury, impaneled by any court or by any public servant authorized by law to impanel a jury. The term juror also includes any person who has been summoned or whose name has been drawn to attend as a prospective juror. (emphasis mine)

Certainly, I am not an attorney nor am I a legal scholar by any stretch of the imagination.

But if the House does ultimately approve articles of impeachment for President Donald Trump—which now seems inevitable—then the question of jury tampering could conceivably arise, which could explain why Mitch McConnell advised Trump to back off his tactic of CRITICIZING SENATORS who may soon be sitting in judgment of him.

As a disclaimer, let me say up front this is not a partisan essay but a legitimate question about a legal conundrum that may need to be addressed down the road if the laws concerning jury tampering are to be enforced across the board at all levels of jurisprudence.

The potential problem revolves around the fact that (a) the House, which will have to vote to impeach, will act in the same role as a grand jury does when it indicts an individual and (b) the Senate will serve as the jury in the trial that would follow.

That means that every member of Congress—435 House members and 100 senators—would be serving at some point as either a member of the grand jury (House) or the petit jury (Senate).

So, when Trump goes tweets any criticism of any representative or senator over the issue of impeachment, is he committing the crime of jury tampering? When he says Republicans need to “GET TOUGHER AND FIGHT” on impeachment, could that be considered an attempt to influence a juror’s vote?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) is one of Trump’s more vocal supporters who championed the impeachment of Bill Clinton but now rails against a similar move to impeach a president from his own party.

And Graham’s sometimes steadfast defense of Trump and his strident criticism of the impeachment hearings creates a glaring jury tampering problem in its own right.

You see, Graham heads up a political action committee (PAC) called FUND FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE. In fact, on the PAC’s web page is a quote from Graham: “I helped establish Fund for America’s Future several years ago to support conservative candidates for federal and state office. We will work hard to grow the Republican Party and chip away at the Democrats’ control of Washington.”

And as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Ay, there’s the rub” (often misquoted as “Therein lies the rub”).

Of 21 Republican senators up for reelection next year, 15 have accepted $110,000 between them from Fund for America’s Future this year alone—all since the subject of impeachment was first broached inside the Beltway. These senators, with the amounts they received, include:

  • Dan Sullivan, Alaska: $10,000;
  • Tom Cotton, Arkansas: $5,000;
  • Cory Gardner, Colorado: $5,000;
  • David Perdue, Georgia: $10,000;
  • Joni Ernst, Iowa: $10,000;
  • Mitch McConnell: $10,000;
  • Susan Collins, Maine: $5,000;
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi: $5,000;
  • Steve Daines, Montana: $10,000;
  • Ben Sasse, Nebraska: $5,000;
  • Thom Tillis, North Carolina: $5,000;
  • Jim Inhofe, Ohio: $5,000;
  • Lamar Alexander, Tennessee: $10,000;
  • John Cornyn, Texas: $10,000;
  • Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia: $5,000.

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy had no contributions from Graham’s PAC, though he did receive $11,200 from Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Republican power brokers. Several other senators also received contributions from the father and daughter from Nevada.

Additionally, several senators received contributions from Citizens United Political Victory Fund. That’s the PAC that convinced the SUPREME COURT to remove limits on corporations spending on political campaigns, a decision that led to the creation of super PACs.

Interestingly Citizens United Political Victory Fund provided compensation of an undetermined amount to Kellyanne Conway, who never passes up an opportunity appear on Fox News to defend Trump and to attack the impeachment hearings. No explanation was provided as to the purpose of that payment to her. That compensation, of course, further clouds the issue of jury tampering.

Cotton ($5,000), Daines ($10,000), and Graham ($5,000) also received funding from Citizens United Political Victory Fund while 10 received contributions from Citizens for Prosperity in America PAC, an organization that contributes 100 percent to Republican causes and candidates. Those included:

  • Sullivan: $15,000;
  • Gardner: $5,000;
  • Perdue: $10,000;
  • Ernst: $10,000;
  • McConnell: $5,000;
  • Daines: $5,000;
  • Tillis: $10,000;
  • Inhofe: $5,000;
  • Graham: $5,000;
  • Cornyn: $11,600.

Money is never given to any politician without the expectation of something in return. And inasmuch as these senators received these contributions this year with the full knowledge that they would likely be sitting as a jury in judgment of fellow Republican Trump, the question of (wait for it) quid pro quo comes into play and that would appear to constitute jury tampering.

In 1929, the Louisiana legislature voted to impeach Gov. Huey Long but he pulled a brilliant move that guaranteed victory. He convinced 15 senators to sign a pledge, the so-called “ROUND ROBIN” not to vote to convict. They were later rewarded with state jobs and other favors with some even alleged to have been paid in cash or given lavish gifts. That certainly was jury tampering by every definition of the term.

As far as we know, Trump has yet to attempt to get 34 senators to sign such a pledge.

As far as we know.

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Last May, The New Orleans Advocate published a STORY that put the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees in Louisiana at 2,800.

Today, just six months later, that number has trebled to 9,000.

That dramatic increase could be tied to the sudden disappearance of thousands of detainees in Brownsville, Texas, who were rumored to have been quietly transferred to Louisiana which now ranks second only to Texas in the number of ICE detainees.

A big part of the reason for the surge is pure economics.

The Louisiana Department of Corrections pays local sheriffs and private prisons $24.39 to house its prisoners while ICE’s rate is more than double that, at $65 a day.

And the profits don’t stop with the daily rates paid by ICE. Exorbitant rates charged by private telephone companies, private- or sheriff department-run commissaries that gouge prisoners for snacks and soft drinks, and private companies that provide ankle monitors are cashing in on both DOC prisoners and ICE detainees.

In short, local facilities, whether operated by private companies like LASALLE CORRECTIONS, headquartered in Ruston (even its EMPLOYEES give it overall poor reviews), GEO, or local sheriffs—and the aforementioned affiliated suppliers—have discovered a cash cow.

One privately-run local prison no longer even takes DOC prisoners, choosing instead to go for the bigger payout.

And of course, the private companies that run prisons, operate telephone services, sell concessions and provide the ankle monitors haven’t forgotten to grease the skids via generous campaign contributions to the elected officials who continue to approve the arrangements and everyone comes away happy.

Almost everyone, that is.

Forgotten in the ringing of the cash registers for those entities has been the general welfare of the detainees.

With 1,600 detainees in Jena, 1,000 each in Richwood, Basile, and Jonesboro, 1,400 in Winnfield, 1,100 in Pine Prairie, 835 in Ferriday, 755 in Jena, and 250 in Plain Dealing, overcrowding is a real issue. And little has been done to address that problem.

At Richwood, for example, 98 detainees are housed in a single room and there are only four toilets with no privacy. Beds are stacked three high along the walls of the room with bunk beds placed down the middle of the room. Detainees are awakened at 4 a.m. for breakfast and are given only 40 minutes per day outside. One observer said the men “get so hopeless and desperate, they just start screaming.”

Hardened criminals at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola receive better treatment.

Recently, the warden at Richwood was replaced after a detainee committed SUICIDE.

Other atrocities attributed to LaSalle were cited in an ONLINE STORY by Vice.com. These included moldy food, poor training of guards, physical abuse of migrants, and lack of medical care.

A demonstration is planned tomorrow (Saturday) at Richwood for whatever good it might do. If a detainee is identified by the media, he is at risk for reprisals, according to the observer who spoke on condition of confidentiality for that very reason.

Nell Hahn, a retired Lafayette attorney with the Louisiana Advocates for Immigrant and Detention (LA-AID), spoke to a group of detainee advocates at the Ruston Presbyterian Church last Saturday.

She said billions of dollars are being wasted on imprisoning those “whose only offense is that they have no legal documentation. They have committed no crimes,” she said.

The detainees are housed in such remote places as Jonesboro, Jena, Ferriday, Winnfield, Pine Prairie, and Oberlin in part because keeping them in such remote places makes it difficult for them to obtain legal representation from attorneys like Lara Nochomovitz of Cleveland, Ohio, who, nevertheless represents clients at Richwood, Plain Dealing and Jonesboro.

The Southern Poverty Law Center purchased a house in Jena in order to serve as a place for attorneys to stay while working on cases—and for immigrants’ families to stay free of charge.

Still, immigration judges who hear Louisiana cases have unusually high rates of denials of petitions for asylum from detainees.

It’s one thing to protect our borders and no one would argue that. But to keep detainees, including children, in inhuman conditions with inadequate toiletries, bedding, food and exercise, caged like rats, is not what this country is supposed to be about.

And lest the argument crops up that the illegal immigrants are taking jobs from Americans, let’s be clear: They have not taken a single job. Those jobs were “taken” by the employers who run the roofing companies, construction companies and the chicken processing plants, and who give the jobs to the illegals.

As long as they give the low-paying jobs to illegals, the problem will persist.

Like the futile war on drugs, as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.

 

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Iberia Parish continues to generate negative publicity that only serves to underscore the racial divide in that parish. This time, though, it’s not the sheriff’s office but the office of District Attorney Bo Duhé and instead of silencing African-American prisoners, Duhé’s office is attempting to undercut the authority of an African-American judge

Sarah Lustbader, writing for http://theappeal.org/, described on Tuesday the legal effort of the DA’s office to force the recusal of 16th Judicial District Judge Lori Landry from more than 300 criminal cases.

On Wednesday, Katie Gagliano, writing for the Acadiana Advocate, put a slightly different spin (the DA’s spin, as contained in Duhé’s office’s legal filings) on the same story.

While Gagliano’s STORY dealt with confrontations between Judge Landry and attorneys for the district attorney’s office, Lustbader chose to hard statistics that reflect harsher penalties for blacks who commit felonies than for their white counterparts. You can read that story by going HERE.

But there’s more to the story—as there nearly always is.

And it’s not that First Assistant DA Robert Vines, who is white, filed the recusal motion—the same Robert Vines who was named LEAD PROSECUTOR in a case involving alleged illegal manipulation of the Cypress Bayou Casino’s employee and payroll databases.

Cypress Bayou Casino is run by the Chitimacha Indian Tribe in St. Mary Parish and in June 2016, the tribe’s chairman, O’Neil Darden, Jr., was arrested by State Police on charges of felony theft, accused of stealing from the tribe by tinkering with the casino’s data bases that resulted in his receiving an “annual bonus” of several thousand dollars to which he was not entitled.

The only problem with Vines serving as lead prosecutor in that case is that Darden hired Vines in January 2016, six months before his arrest, as prosecutor for the Chitimacha Tribal Court.

Apparently, the question of recusal never came up in that case.

Of course, the Cypress Bayou Casino case is not related to the latest controversy arising in the DA’s office, but it does illustrate how the district attorney’s office—along with the office of Sheriff Louis Ackal—operates as a law unto itself.

As further illustration of the manner in which justice has been turned on its ear in Iberia, there is the case of DONALD BROUSSARD. In July 2016, Broussard, who had begun a drive to recall Sheriff Ackal, was rear-ended in adjacent Lafayette Parish by a hit-and-run driver named Rakeem Blakes.

Broussard followed Blakes, getting close enough to read the license number, which he gave to a 911 dispatcher before falling back. Moments later, after entering Iberia Parish, Blakes was killed when he collided with an 18-wheeler.

Broussard was subsequently indicted for manslaughter by Duhé and sentenced to four years hard labor. Thus, the message was sent loud and clear: Broussard, a black man, should have known better than to initiate a recall of Ackal.

So, there is obvious acrimony between Judge Landry and Duhé’s office, but when one looks beyond the legal motions filed by Vines and analyzes the data provided by Lustbader, it’s easier to understand why there might be some undercurrent of resentment in Iberia Parish’s black community.

There is a real disparity in the manner in which justice is meted out and there has been little effort to address that disparity.

The Appeal is a non-profit media organization that produces original journalism about criminal justice that is focused on the most significant drivers of mass incarceration, which occur at the state and local level.

Its job is to address that disparity.

Duhé’s job, apparently, is not.

 

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